The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cable case for level playing field

State information technology minister Manab Mukherjee has stressed that the government should play a regulatory role in the largely unorganised cable television trade, and ensure a level playing field for the various players in the industry.

Speaking at the fifth convention of the Forum of Cable Operators (FCO) at Science City on Thursday, Mukherjee cautioned the 2,000-odd operators at the meet to guard against the “total invasion of the big players”.

He said: “The powerful broadcasters are now eyeing the last mile of connectivity, which you people control at the moment. We are not against competition. But any competition should be among equals. A small operator shouldn’t be expected to take on the might of the Reliances or the Mittals.”

The minister admitted that West Bengal needed foreign investment. “But we must be selective in rolling out the red carpet to the multinationals. It’s a question of political attitude. The government has to play the role of a regulator to ensure that the interests of the weak are protected and the big fish don’t swallow the small fish,” he added.

Lauding the operators for their resilience and ingenuity, Mukherjee said: “Without big investments or government incentives, you have shown the entire Third World how to generate employment through small-scale industry.”

He advised operators to stay in tune with emerging technology to take the trade forward. “Cable television can play an important role in IT-enabled entertainment, a fast-growing sector, but you must stand together to meet the new challenges. The government is with you,” he assured the gathering.

CPM MLA Rabin Deb also called upon the cable operators to put up a united front and protect their territory, the last mile. “The government is always behind your enterprise,” he said.

The Cable Traders and Manufacturers Association (CTMA) stressed the need to arrive at a floor subscription rate for cable homes. “I don’t think any operator showing 60 channels can sustain his business at less than Rs 200 per point per month. For a 50-channel network, the subscription shouldn’t be less than Rs 150,” said association president Vinod Sanchiti.

FCO demanded that the broadcasters do away with the practice of bunching channels as packages and must declare the MRP of all pay channels.

The forum’s general secretary Tarak Saha said: “We are not against any new technology (read: conditional access system). But consumers’ as well as operators’ interests must be protected during its implementation.”

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