The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Juggle time in set-top options

With 32 days remaining for the conditional access system (CAS) to be implemented, and the government making it clear that it won’t do a VAT-like volte-face, the cableman has come knocking on the doors of consumers to hard-sell set-top boxes (STB).

Ei Shonibar du hazar taka dite hobe, na hole box paben na, (Pay Rs 2,000 by this Saturday, otherwise you won’t get a STB).” The message — pay or be deprived — is loud and clear from a section of cablemen in south Calcutta.

But will the consumer be charged a fair price for STBs' Despite the government slashing import duty on STBs from 52 per cent to 5 per cent, July will remain a critical month for cable consumers. The price indications, given by the various MSOs, indicate that consumers will have to cough up a minimum of Rs 2,200 for their share of entertainment beyond the free-to-air fare.

“In cities like Mumbai and Delhi, MSOs like In Cable and Win Cable have rolled out rental packages with some security deposit for the customers. But the MSOs in the city are still pushing the outright purchase model for the STBs. This will sort of lock in a particular customer to an MSO. What will he do with the STB, if he decides to switch'" asks Mrinal Chatterjee, a member of the CAS Task Force.

Though SitiCable has announced a rental package — refundable security deposit of Rs 2,700, connection charge of Rs 500 and a rental of 60 paise per day — for its STBs, RPG Netcom and Manthan are yet to take the rental route. Siti, which connects over 2.25 lakh homes in the city, will source the boxes from Zee TV and has already booked around 100,000 STBs, which will run on digital technology. Those placing their order by July 14 will not have to pay rental for the first six months.

“We are offering a number of purchase plans to consumers and also offering bank finance facilities. We are in the midst of working out a rental plan," says Dilip Sen, chief executive, RPG Netcom, the biggest MSO in the city, that feeds over 70 per cent of Calcutta's 12-lakh-odd cable homes. As per the indications, the beam boxes will be available at Rs 2,200 plus taxes from the RPG stable.

To provide conditional access, RPG Netcom will be using analog technology and has tied up with Dalvi for the boxes and UshaCom for subscriber management software (SMS). “But within the next two to three months, we will also go digital,” adds Sen.

Manthan Broadband Services Ltd, an umbrella outfit of independent cable operators, has also announced its indicative price for the STBs after tying up with Taiwan-based Eastern Electronics Co Ltd. Manthan is sourcing SMS from Hyderabad-based MagnaQuest Solutions.

“We are passing on the entire benefit of the duty reduction to the consumer. The STB will cost around Rs 2,200 and we have already booked 25,000 boxes," says Rangan Dasgupta, chief operating officer, Manthan. The company promises to offer digital technology-based STBs.

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