The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Toe the line or have signal snapped
- Cable cartel plan with conduct code to mop up arrears, check defaulting deserters

With CAS cooling its heels, it’s time for a code of conduct for cablemen. To streamline revenue from the ground and rein in perennial defaulters, a move is on to form a cartel among multi-system operators (MSOs) in Calcutta and enforce a “things-to-do” for the local industry.

“The operators collect more than Rs 20 crore from cable and satellite households in and around the city every month, of which broadcasters hardly get Rs 4 crore. The rest remains with the local cableman, forcing pay channels to raise the prices of their products periodically. And the hapless viewer has to suffer,” observes Amit Nag, CEO of RPG Netcom.

The three-point code of conduct is to try and form “a captive regulatory authority” for Calcutta, so that the huge amount of “dirty money” floating on the ground can be harnessed to carry the business forward. The essential thrust of the exercise is to stop defaulters migrating from one service provider to another.

According to the proposed code, if an operator is disconnected by one MSO for non-payment, no rival MSO can shelter him. If any service provider connects the defaulting operator without collecting the outstanding, he will have to pay the original MSO from his pocket as “customer acquisition cost”. Third, there will be a redress cell to look into territorial issues, declaration levels and ‘dummy’ operators.

RPG Netcom claims all major pay broadcasters have rallied behind this initiative. “They have promised us that any MSO sheltering defaulters will be switched off. After all, this is the only way we can bring in transparency and shield subscribers,” says Nag.

“It’s a welcome initiative, no doubt, and can help the business grow, if implemented constructively. But care has to be taken to ensure that vested-interest groups are not encouraged during the drill,” says Suresh Sethia, a joint-venture partner of SitiCable. Manthan, put under the scanner by other service providers for allegedly sheltering defaulting operators in town, also feels the proposal merits a thought. “Yes, we can surely discuss it,” says director Gurmeet Singh.

The Netcom brass, which has already met different operator associations on the issue, has spelt out “in no uncertain terms” that funds flow from the ground has to improve if the industry is to survive in its present structure. “We have identified more than 50 master-control rooms who are huge defaulters, among them, 32 chronic cases, and we have already started disconnecting them,” declares a top Netcom official.

While it plans to step up the signal-snap drive, Netcom, which has over 2,700 local operators and 190 master-control rooms in the notified CMDA area, is also working towards “restructuring connectivity so that those already declaring more than 30 per cent are adjusted”. Thirty per cent declaration is being pegged as the industry benchmark, with the present low reading eight per cent.

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