The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lockhorn letters in CAS chaos
- Govt discovers more grey areas, refuses to set deadline

The chaos over conditional access system (CAS) ruled Writers’ Buildings on Tuesday with a series of meetings between government officials, industry players and consumer group representatives inching from one “grey area” to another. At the end of the day, the stalemate over CAS continued, with no date being set for the set-top regime to roll out.

If anything, the chasm between the Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry and the Bengal government — created since Delhi was allowed to push back CAS — widened with Writers’ discovering fresh stumbling blocks stopping the system from entering cable and satellite homes in Zone I.

The government on Tuesday decided to send another letter to the I&B ministry “in a day or two”, seeking further clarifications. “The Centre has not answered most of our queries in the earlier letter. They cannot pressure us to implement CAS because even if broadcasting is under their control, the state is the implementing agency here. Moreover, we have to deal with law and order and consumers’ interests,” said Basudeb Banerjee, state information and culture secretary.

“We are not setting any time frame by which CAS may or may not be introduced in Calcutta,” Banerjee announced, after a marathon meeting with multi-system operators (MSOs), cable operators and consumer groups.

“It is not clear to consumers what channels they might be able to watch if they do not opt for the pay channels. What does a Bengali household do if most of the (free-to-air) channels they start receiving turn out to be in Tamil' Consumers have the right to this information,” stressed Banerjee.

The I&B ministry has decreed that a minimum of 30 free-to-air channels must be beamed for a monthly fee of Rs 72, plus local taxes. While broad genres like news and entertainment have been demarcated, the exact product mix for the free-to-air package has been left to the cable operator, dictated by demand.

But confusion continued to be the key component of all things CAS at Writers’ as the government blamed the MSOs for not reaching out to consumers at the ground level.

This, said Banerjee, was evident as service providers RPG Netcom, SitiCable and Manthan were “not clear” about the exact number of set-top boxes that might be required. “No one seems to have conducted any survey keeping the consumers’ interests or demands in mind,” he said.

A series of meetings was held at Writers’ Buildings throughout the day, initially involving chief secretary S.N. Roy, police commissioner Sujoy Chakraborty, district magistrate of South 24-Parganas Vivek Kumar and the information and culture secretary. Banerjee later met industry representatives and said he was considering a proposal to set up a core CAS committee.

Mrinal Chatterjee, member of the central CAS task force, said: “The sooner CAS is implemented, the better for all the stakeholders of the industry.” RPG Netcom CEO Amit Nag added: “We are waiting for the government’s instructions before our next move.”

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