The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Capital clean chit for CAS capability Barrage of bouquets for the viewer

Technically, Calcutta is CAS capable. Politically, the cloud over CAS has darkened, with Delhi being allowed to push back the set-top box regime.

On Tuesday, the technical representative from the Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry gave the two major service providers in town a clean chit. On Wednesday, two top functionaries from the ministry are expected to discuss the rollout rigmarole at Writers’ Buildings, besides meeting consumer forums.

K.R.P. Verma, chairman and managing director of Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd, a PSU under the ministry, visited control rooms of RPG Netcom and SitiCable to assess technical CAS-worthiness of the two multi-system operators (MSOs) during the day, and said he was “satisfied” with the progress of both. Rakesh Mohan and Vijay Singh, joint secretary and additional secretary in the I&B ministry, respectively, will carry forward central-level interactions with city stakeholders on Wednesday.

With conditional access for notified Zone I just five days away, and Delhi desperate to clear the decks for a smooth rollout in Calcutta, Chennai and Mumbai, service providers in the city are on overdrive to seed the boxes. A section of cable homes in the city is already viewing a clutch of free-to-air channels through set-top boxes. SitiCable, the Zee stable MSO set to hit the hi-tech high road with its all-digital HITS (head-end in the sky) model, has already activated more than 2,000 boxes as a teaser to the real thing.

“We are feeding over 70 free-to-air channels through the boxes as a demonstration of the technology," says Siti vice-president Soumen Roy Chowdhury. Eight to nine digital channels can be squeezed into the space needed to transmit one analog channel, and the extra bandwidth has enabled Siti to beam a host of regional channels to large niche audiences.

“There is a great demand for south Indian channels in some areas of south Calcutta, and also Punjabi, Gujarati, Oriya and even mandarin fare in Tangra and Topsia, which we have met through the box,” says Roy Chowdhury.

FM radio channels from Delhi are also being broadcast through the boxes.

RPG Netcom, the MSO with over 60 per cent of the market share in town, is laying store by its “corporate skills” to garner crucial post-CAS points.

“We are accustomed to handling millions of customers at (group company) CESC, and our subscriber management system will be foolproof,” asserts CEO Amit Nag.

RPG Netcom, which has already handed over CAS resource kits to cablemen, is adopting a dual approach to push the box. “We are focusing on both the operator and the consumer,” explains director Dilip Sen.

While viewers are being bombarded with information through leaflets along with CESC bills, billboards and Snap-channel shows, operators are being given CAS crash courses at orientation programmes.

The message to last-mile operators from every MSO is loud and clear: “Give us volumes, we will give you margins.”

Manthan, the third service provider in town, which has considerable connectivity in notified Zone I, has maintained a low profile on the marketing front. “We have installed our subscriber management system and started orientation courses for operators a month ago,” assures a director.

A fourth service provider, CableComm, is set to join the beam battle with an all-digital platform on Wednesday.

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