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Prasad piece of mind for cablemen

New Delhi, Sept. 23: Union information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today gave a group from the cable television industry “a piece of mind”, blaming them for having misled the government on the conditional access system that would make set-top boxes compulsory to watch pay channels.

Representatives of leading multi-system operators — Zee/Siticable’s Jawahar Goel and Rajeev Khattar, Hathway’s Jayaraman, Incable’s Rajeev Vyas and an executive from RPG Netcom — were told by Prasad that internal disputes among MSOs, operators and broadcasters were the chief reasons for CAS not having taken off despite the ministry actively championing it.

He said the inability of actors in the cable TV industry to settle their differences had made the information and broadcasting ministry appear “wimpish”. The ministry was now unwilling to be dragged into commercial disputes.

The representatives of the MSOs had called on the minister to urge him to actively pursue the implementation of the set-top box regime.

In a memorandum they said they had invested about Rs 800 crore in importing set-top boxes and now feared being “bankrupt”.

They also sought an extension of the duty waiver on set-top boxes that is to expire on September 30.

But Prasad shot back and said CAS could not be implemented in Mumbai and Delhi despite the ministry’s efforts because the MSOs were not able to conclude satisfactory agreements with broadcasters to offer a good price to viewers.

There was little indication now of what the future holds for CAS which has been mandated by the government but practically rejected on the ground except in Chennai where it is a slow and messy starter.

The I&B ministry is also weighing if taking another proactive stand on CAS “was worth the trouble”.

A case filed by Siticable against the government asking for CAS to be enforced is likely to come up in courts tomorrow. I&B ministry officials refuse to speculate on the future of CAS because of a number of cases pending in court might well prompt a judicial order that they will have to implement this way or that.

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