The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CAS questions abound

New Delhi, June 30: Unanswered questions dog every aspect of the conditional access system.

For instance, information and broadcasting minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was examining the availability of set-top boxes. But does the government know how many will be needed and how many are available' No.

Sources in the I&B ministry say the broadcasters have given a figure of 1,50,000 boxes being available by July 15 and the rest, if needed, being only “four hours away”.

Broadcasters, barring Zee, submitted to the government today a second rate card giving the prices of individual pay channels.

Prasad said the broadcasters have offered to freeze the rates at current levels for at least six months.

But have the rates been worked out with the operators and does the viewer know how much he has to pay' No. Prasad said the broadcasters and the multi-system operators (MSOs) have still to work out the commissions that will be payable.

STAR’s Peter Mukerjea and Sameer Nair, Sony’s Kunal Dasgupta, Discovery’s Deepak Shourie, Zee/Siticable’s Jawahar Goel, ESPN’s Manu Sawhney, Ten Sports’ Sarmistha Rijhwani and Turner’s Anshuman Mishra flanked the minister as he answered a barrage of questions from journalists and cable operators who sneaked into the office.

Earlier this morning, media advisor in the I&B ministry and PM confidante Sudheendra Kulkarni summoned representatives of cable operators’ organisations.

Emerging from that meeting, the Cable Operators’ Federation of India president, Roop Sharma, said they had suggested that all channels should be made “free-to-air” — that is available for Rs 72 — till August 15.

She claimed that Kulkarni was in favour of allowing broadcasters time to make CAS popular and that he had assured that the government would not allow investments made to procure set-top boxes and encryption systems by MSOs to go waste.

Capping all this confusion is the bitterness that has set in among not only the stakeholders in the cable television industry — broadcasters and operators — but also in the government.

I&B secretary Pawan Chopra talked of a “soft launch” of CAS on Friday only to be put down by the minister today. The minister preferred, instead to describe the government’s approach as one “that will ensure that there will be no blackout on television and that CAS will be as consumer-friendly as possible”.

Earlier, Chopra, seeking to thrash out a compromise in a meeting with broadcasters and operators, had walked out. Even as the meetings were on today in the I&B ministry — the first with the secretary and the second with the minister — those who emerged briefly from the offices whispered that “there’s a stand-off”.

If there was a consensus anywhere, it was in that the broadcasters returned from the meeting convinced that “the government is determined to go ahead with CAS”.

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