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Centre waves TV box stick

New Delhi, July 9: The Union information and broadcasting ministry today told broadcasters it is considering measures that will force them to price television channels cheaply to ensure that the conditional access system rolls out.

Ministry sources said one of the options being considered was an ordinance. A draft has been prepared and might be discussed in the Union cabinet tomorrow. However, broadcasters STAR, Sony and ESPN have told the government in a meeting today that they are unhappy with such coercion.

Ministry sources said the ordinance, if issued, will amend the Cable Networks (Amendment) Act that mandated the conditional access system for cable television. It can “enjoin upon broadcasters” to stick to an “agreement” for a staggered rollout of CAS from September 1.

Today’s meeting was attended by Peter Mukerjea of STAR, Kunal Dasgupta of Sony, Jawahar Goel of Zee/Siticable and, for the first time in the current round of discussions, by Zee chief Subhash Chandra.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the media adviser in the I&B ministry and officer on special duty in the PMO, and I&B secretary Pawan Chopra conducted the proceedings.

The ordinance option had come up in a meeting that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had with I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Prasad had announced last week after a meeting in the PMO with cable operators and broadcasters that CAS was being deferred from July 15 to September 1. He had said that till CAS was implemented, all channels would be available at free-to-air prices (Rs 72 plus taxes) beginning August and through to December.

Sources said the broadcasters asked the government to specify the dates for the rollout of CAS in each of the four zones in each of the four metros. The “agreement” thrashed out in the PMO was that CAS will be implemented zone-wise.

Since the agreement was announced, a row broke out over the “invitation pricing”. The broadcasters said that the invitation pricing should apply to each of the zones only for the month preceding CAS implementation in that zone.

Implementation of CAS, for the viewer, means receiving pay channels through set-top boxes. The “invitation pricing” is aimed at encouraging subscribers to buy the set-top box.

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