The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free-to-air figure a ‘fantasy’

Seventy free-to-air (FTA) channels for Rs 72' And many more ‘pay’ channels to pick from' Fantastic, but not feasible.

Cablemen and multi-system operators (MSOs) in Calcutta have expressed “surprise” over the claim by some Delhi-based service providers on Tuesday that they were prepared to carry 60-70 FTA channels in the basic service tier. “Nowhere has the government mandated that the cable operator has to carry more than 30 channels in the FTA bouquet, nor is it feasible under the present circumstances,” said Mrinal Chatterjee, who represents city cable operators on the conditional access system (CAS) task force.

Chatterjee clarified that there was no meeting of the task force scheduled in the Capital on Tuesday, and that a bunch of service providers met information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad independently. Buoyed by the “cooperation commitment” shown by the Delhi-based MSOs, the minister even held out hope for a consumer package not exceeding Rs 200.

“It is an unlikely scenario, at least here. The last-mile network over almost the whole of Calcutta runs on a 550-megaHertz bandwidth, which can’t carry more than 60-65 channels in an analog scenario,” explained Chatterjee. Post-CAS, if a cableman has to provide more than 100 channels, he has to either upgrade to an 840-megaHertz analog network, which is “prohibitively expensive”, or go digital to accommodate the extra channels.

“All this talk of beaming 100-plus channels is just playing to the gallery. Does the consumer want so many channels' We can transmit more than 100 channels through the optic-fibre network. But not many operators will be able to reach all those channels to the viewers,” said Dilip Sen, CEO of RPG Netcom, which feeds more than 70 per cent of Calcutta’s cable homes.

Cable Operators Sangram Committee spokesman Tarak Saha agreed that the lack of preparedness on the ground would slow down such a technology leap so soon. Saha, however, foresees a “concerted push” towards a digital platform in the Capital and feels the same demand could well be created in Calcutta, “sooner than expected”.

SitiCable is the only MSO in town opting for an all-digital platform to facilitate its HITS (headend in the sky) technology. Netcom and Manthan Broadband Services — the other MSO in town — are rolling out CAS with the analog platform. “We are equipped to carry more than 100 channels on our network. However, how many free-to-air channels over and above the mandated 30 that a last-mile operator includes in the basic service tier is completely his prerogative,” clarified a SitiCable spokesperson.

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