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Set-top rethink for poll-bound Delhi

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Heading for another climbdown on implementing the conditional access system for cable television, the government today began considering a partial rollback of the new regime that has been deferred once earlier.

CAS — with the set-top box at its core — is due to be rolled out in the four metros from September 1. But the government is keeping its options open on poll-bound Delhi. The government is aware that broadcasters and operators are worried that the offtake of set-top boxes is scanty because viewers perceive the regime as disruptive. The original deadline was July 15.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and law minister Arun Jaitley were told by Delhi BJP chief Madanlal Khurana at a meeting this evening that making set-top boxes compulsory to view pay channels can tell on the BJP’s fortunes in the Assembly elections.

The rethink on Delhi coincided with a government indication that the economics of CAS will be left to market forces.

Union information and broadcasting secretary Pawan Chopra, who turned up at a news conference organised by multi-system operator Hathway, said: “It is our experience that the success or failure of a new system can only be judged by god. We believe that if the consumer wants CAS, there will be a demand for set-top boxes.” He was responding to a question on the differences in rates of pay channels between broadcasters and operators.

Asked if the government’s stated intention — that the cable subscriber will not have to pay more than Rs 200 after the implementation of CAS — will fructify on ground, Chopra said: “It is impossible to have arbitrary pricing in a transparent market. Post-CAS, government will play no role in fixing of prices. That will be determined by the broadcasters and the MSOs.”

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