The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pay more for pay channels

New Delhi, Dec. 10: Bad news for couch potatoes: you will have to fork out a sizeable amount of cash on set-top boxes if you want to continue to watch pay TV channels. The set-top boxes could cost anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,500.

The set-top box requirement for pay TV channels will become mandatory as soon as the Cable Television Networks Amendment Act — which was passed today in Parliament — comes into force.

Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj who piloted the Bill, which was passed by a voice vote, said the Act will be enforced in stages.

However, the Act provides that free-to-air channels like Doordarshan can be viewed normally without the set-top boxes. The new Act also allows the government to step in and set a ceiling on prices that the cable networks can charge for distributing free-to-air channels, but it does not set any pricing collars for pay channels.

It will enable the government to prescribe the minimum number of free-to-air channels of various categories that every cable operator has to offer. However, the operator and the viewers will be free to determine which channels they wish to show or view with the government having “absolutely no role in this”.

The Act also provides for an “open architecture” of the set-top boxes. This means that the same set-top box, which is used as a filter on the number of channels a subscriber receives and pays for, can be used to receive signals from any pay channel through the cable network, subject to standardisation of the design set by the Bureau of Indian Standards.

Swaraj told Rajya Sabha members that “subscribers would not be required to change receiving sets irrespective of the channels they wish to receive. He would also be free to view the channels from amongst those offered by the cable service providers”.

The lone voice of protest in the passage of the Bill was that of the Left led by the CPM’s Nilotpal Basu, who warned that set-top boxes would soon become redundant. With convergence of infotech and television, new technological choices would be available in the market, which would make the entire investment in set-top boxes useless.

Swaraj sought to allay members’ fears that the government wanted to regulate content being shown on television through the Bill. She said that would be part of the job of a super-regulator for the entire communication and entertainment sector proposed through the convergence Bill, which is still stuck in Parliament.

She added that the Bill and the duties it imposed on the government would devolve on the super-regulator once the convergence Bill is passed. Swaraj said the government has sought only three rights through this Bill — determining the number of basic players and the genre of programming to be shown and the amount.

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