The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mid-June deadline for channels to come clean

New Delhi, June 5: The Centre today set a deadline of June 15 for cable television broadcasters and operators to declare channels “pay” or “free-to-air” in a move designed to make the conditional access system look consumer-friendly.

“Unless the individual prices of channels and their status as free-to-air or pay are made public by June 15, operators will not transmit them from July 14,” said information minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

The announcement of cable channel subscription rates was deemed necessary to assess the number of set top boxes that may be in demand when the conditional access regime rolls out in the four metros on July 14.

The notification issued today — the second in the run-up to the CAS regime — puts the onus of informing the consumer of tariffs on the cable operator.

The first notification issued on May 7 said a minimum 30 free-to-air channels will be distributed by cable operators at Rs 72 per subscriber.

But the cable operator is dependent on the broadcasters for pricing channels. The notification says cable operators will not transmit those channels from July 14 whose status is not known. At the same time, the deadline set for announcing the rates is June 15. The notification does not state what action, if any, will be taken if a channel’s status is not known in the month between June 15 and July 14.

Senior I&B ministry sources said: “We have used friendly persuasion and the broadcasters have agreed to make the rates public by June 15. Since CAS goes into implementation from July 14, that is the only date we take for some kind of a cut-off.” The ministry has asked broadcasters to attend a meeting on June 10. Today’s notification comes after a delay by broadcasters in announcing the rates.

Asked if a channel that was free-to-air on June 15 had the option of turning pay (or vice versa) later, I&B secretary Pawan Chopra said: “We have been suggesting that everything should be done in the interest of the consumer. We will expect that during the rollover period (the first few months during which CAS will take effect), there will not be major fluctuations in pricing.”

Today’s notification also asks cable operators to publicise the rates of individual channels and discount schemes on a package of channels sold as a single brand. Prasad said broadcasters would not be able to price channels and discount packages in a manner that will dilute the choice of the viewer.

Prasad said multisystem operators, such as Hathway, Incable and Siticable, had given in writing that they were in a position to distribute as many as 70 free-to-air channels at Rs 72 (plus local taxes).

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