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Dec. 26 freeze on cable TV rate

New Delhi, Jan. 15: Cable television rates have been frozen.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) today directed cable operators across the country to charge the tariff that existed on December 26 last year.

“Trai has decided to specify as ceiling the rates at which the charges will be paid by the cable subscribers to cable operators, by the cable operators to multi-service operators and by multi-service operators to broadcasters (including their authorised distribution agencies) as prevailing on 26th December 2003 with respect to both free-to-air channels and pay channels, and for both CAS and non-CAS areas, until a final determination by the Trai on the various issues involved,” said a note issued by the regulator.

Last week, the government asked Trai to sort out the mess over cable television pricing caused by the plan to impose the conditional access system (CAS, or set-top boxes) in Chennai and South Delhi.

The regulator also issued a preliminary consultation paper asking all the players in the industry to make their submissions by January 30 before it charts out a roadmap for cable TV, which is expected by mid-February.

On December 26, Delhi High Court had directed that the implementation of CAS in South Delhi should be conducted on a trial basis for an initial period of three months, after which instructions would be issued, keeping in mind the feedback from the industry.

A senior Trai official said: “We had to take this action (tariff ceiling) since there are no standard rates or conditions at which the services are provided by the cable operators to the subscribers. There have been reports of an increase in the rates.”

Roop Sharma, the chief of the Cable Operators’ Federation of India, said: “It is a good decision, but this has to be implemented strictly. Earlier, too, we had received various notifications from the information and broadcasting ministry but they were never implemented strictly.”

In a consultation paper on policy issues relating to broadcasting and cable services, the regulator has noted that there is considerable uncertainty about the CAS regime. It proposes to take a close look at the rates charged for services in CAS and non-CAS areas.

The issues it has raised include the norms and underlying principles for fixing and periodically revising rates for consumers/cable operators/multi-service operators for individual pay channels and bouquets, and distribution of free-to-air channels.

It will also examine the principles of sharing of pay channel charges among broadcasters, multi-service operators and cable operators.

The regulator will explore to what extent bundling of pay channels should be allowed so that the practice does not discourage selection of individual channels and the terms for sale/rental of set-top boxes, and for refund.

It will consider the issue of compensation to be paid by cable operators to viewers if transmission is interrupted for more than a specified portion of prime time in a month or in the case of a sports channel, a similar portion of the time during an important event.

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