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Buddha pulls out of CAS last lap
- State seeks clarity and uniformity from Delhi, cablemen warn of rent hike

Politics scored over technical capability, as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has urged Delhi to put the conditional access system (CAS) on hold for the time being and demanded that a committee be set up to hear the CAS-related problems of both consumers and cable operators. This eleventh-hour pushback could signal an immediate hike in monthly rates, cablemen warned on Friday.

“The Centre had kept the state governments in the dark and interacted only with the operators. There are still a lot of complications on the ground. Not everyone can afford the instrument (set-top box). Besides, I have learnt that Delhi is not introducing the system from September 1,” the chief minister said at Writers’ Buildings on Friday.

The chief minister said the governments of all the states where CAS is to be introduced (Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu) must be taken into confidence while implementing the system. Chief secretary S.N. Roy has already communicated the state’s CAS-pushback views to the Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, Bhattacharjee added. A meeting held two days ago with I&B officials in the city threw up a clutch of problems that will “have to be ironed out first”, he added.

The articulation of the state’s ‘no CAS now’ stance — always on the cards from when the I&B ministry allowed Delhi to defer the system — has stumped both the industry and the consumer lobby. Countering Bhattacharjee's “anti-consumer” tag to CAS, city consumer forums’ representative Mala Banerjee felt it was the “only instrument to protect consumer interest”. “It’s unfair that a consumer-friendly system has become the victim of politics. I have a feeling the state government doesn’t have a complete understanding of the system and acted in haste.”

Last-mile operators, who have invested substantial sums to upgrade their local networks, have warned of a stiff hike in monthly subscription rates if CAS is postponed at this juncture. “On an average, rates are likely to shoot up by Rs 50 to 75 per point across the city if CAS doesn’t happen on September 1. In the interests of all the stakeholders in this industry, I appeal to the state government to have a rethink on the issue,” said Tarak Saha, spokesman for the Cable Operators’ Sangram Committee.

RPG Netcom, the city’s leading service provider, which was “absolutely ready” to roll out the addressable system in Zone I from September 1, termed this a “major setback for the entire cable TV industry”. RPG Netcom director Dilip Sen put a figure to the fallout: “More than Rs 50 crore has been invested in Calcutta to usher in CAS from the September 1 deadline. The impact will be huge.”

Calling CAS a pro-consumer, transparent technology, Sen said Calcutta would miss a “golden opportunity to have first-mover advantage” if the launch is deferred. “Viewers would have got their entire cable TV fare for Rs 226, and the state could have raked in revenue running into crores from sale of set-top boxes,” Sen added. SitiCable vice-president Soumen Roy Chowdhury stressed: “We have sold more than 5,000 boxes and the money has been transferred to the vendors. How do we organise refunds all of a sudden'”

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