The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Last-mile cableman cries foul
- Price cartels of tailored bouquets will hurt consumer, fear operators

Last-mile cable operators feel they have got the rawest deal in the conditional access system (CAS) conundrum and fear the government’s primary concern of protecting consumer interest could be defeated in the absence of any control over pay channel rates.

“Over the past 11 years, the neighbourhood cableman has been carrying signals over the home stretch through rain and shine. It is unfortunate that while formulating CAS, the government has failed to protect the operator’s interests,” lamented Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), on Tuesday.

Sharma was addressing a two-day seminar on the conditional access system in the city, organised by Cable TV Equipment Traders & Manufacturers Association (CTMA). While welcoming the addressable model “in principle”, she maintained that the “ridiculously low” rate (Rs 71.33) fixed for the free-to-air bouquet will force many operators out of business.

“More important, the consumer will continue to be hurt by pay channels, which are forming price cartels to thrust tailored bouquets down his throat,” Sharma observed. COFI has started a nationwide campaign against “the highhandedness of the government” and to protect the livelihood of the last-mile operator.

The federation has submitted a memorandum to the standing committee of Parliament on CAS, listing its demands. The wish-list has pegged the FTA price at Rs 180 and urged the government to prevent bundling of channels and ensure that a la carte rates of pay channels remain affordable. “We also want entry of political bigwigs into the trade to stop,” said Sharma, also a member of the task force panel on CAS and piracy.

CTMA secretary Sanjay Mansukhani said the aim of the seminar is to orient the operators on CAS. “There are unanswered questions on the technology, financing model and marketing options of the boxes, and time is running out on the last-mile operator. He could even be arrested without a warrant on July 15 if he doesn’t have his addressable network in place, since it’s a cognisable offence,” he said.

The Sangram Committee of Cable Operators agrees that the last-mile service provider needs to know every technical and commercial detail of the CAS network. “We have urged both RPG Netcom and Manthan to take us through a roadmap, so that we can answer our subscribers’ queries,” said committee spokesperson Tarak Saha.

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