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Centre set to grant Jaya cable plea

New Delhi, June 20: The Centre is set to allow the Jayalalithaa government-owned multi-system operator Arasu Cable TV Corporation to go digital, in a move that appears to be aimed at pleasing the Tamil Nadu chief minister.

Jayalalithaa had raised the demand for a digital addressable system (DAS) licence when she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month, sources said, and the information and broadcasting ministry has prepared a note recommending that the proposal be accepted.

The UPA government had not issued the licence, going by the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) — made in 2008 and repeated in 2012 — against granting licences to state-owned multi-system operators or broadcasters.

Ironically in 2008, when Trai first recommended against grant of licences to state-owned operators, it was headed by Nripendra Mishra who is now principal secretary to Modi.

The sources said that while Trai had given its opinion, the I&B ministry has yet to take a policy decision on existing ventures and a provisional licence could therefore be issued to Arasu.

“The inter-ministerial committee will take up the matter next, following which a final call on the matter will be taken by I&B minister Prakash Javadekar. But the ministry is of the view that the conditional permission can be given under existing provisions of the cable TV act,” a senior ministry official said.

Jayalalithaa had written to the ministry this month, urging it to review the matter urgently so “that the people of Tamil Nadu, particularly the poor and the middle class, continue to avail of inexpensive and quality cable TV services.”

Arasu, which has a subscriber base of around 65 lakh, was launched by Jayalalithaa to break the television monopoly of the Sun Group, owned by Kalanidhi Maran, a relative of DMK chief M. Karunanidhi.

Arasu beams around 100 channels through the conditional access system (CAS), under which free channels are sent through the cable network in analog form while pay channels are sent in digital form. Under DAS, all channels are digital. A switch to DAS would improve signal quality for viewers and offer a wider choice of channels.

Besides, since the Centre is aiming at total digitisation of the cable system, Arasu could lose its licence to operate if it fails to go digital within the deadline.

Jayalalithaa had alleged in her letter that the UPA government did not issue the licence “only to facilitate particular private business interests”.

Officials, however, said licences have not been issued to any state-owned organisation for running cable TV networks.

Earlier this year, the I&B minister in the UPA government, Manish Tewari, told Parliament that Arasu Cable TV Corporation had applied on November 26, 2007, for MSO registration. It had been granted provisional permission on April 2, 2008, subject to the Trai report.

Arasu thus was given permission on the condition that it would automatically lapse if the ministry decides against allowing state governments into broadcasting activities, including multi-system and cable operations.