March 10: Delhi High Court today ordered the rollout “within four weeks” of conditional access system (CAS), which allows television viewers to choose the pay channels they want, with the feed diverted through a set-top box.
The government will now have to implement CAS in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai within the stipulated time-frame. Chennai has implemented it, following a Madras High Court order.
Union information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the government would decide on the course of action after going through the judgment.
Industry sources, who welcomed the ruling, however, expect it to file an appeal before the Supreme Court.
The order came on a petition by Hathway Cable Datacom Pvt Ltd, asking for a directive to the government to implement the system in Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai in accordance with the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995.
A government of India notification in 2003 had made it obligatory for cable operators to transmit pay channels through CAS in the four metros.
But the state governments sought deferment or withdrawal of CAS citing difficulties over pricing of pay channels and conditions for procurement of set-top boxes.
The court today said CAS was a viewer-friendly scheme, in which consumers would have to pay only for channels they wanted to watch.
Concurring with this, Cable Operators’ Federation of India president Rupa Sharma said user charges would go down substantially, with subscribers having to pay just Rs 75-150 a month.
But Jawahar Goel, head of the Zee group’s Siticable, said: “I am not sure CAS implementation would eventually bring down the cost for the customer to a large extent.”
The court also noted that cable operators had invested crores of rupees to implement CAS, and directed the government to pay Rs 1 lakh to the petitioners towards costs.
Multi-system operators (MSO) and cable operators in Calcutta welcomed the order. “The judgment will take the cable industry to the next level,” said Amit Nag, CEO of Indian Cable Net (formerly RPG Netcom), one of the three MSOs that filed the writ petition in Delhi High Court.
“Direct-to-home (DTH) is being given addressability. On a level-playing field, we should have that addressability as well,” Nag argued.
With a threat looming large from DTH players ' STAR-Tata joint venture T-Sky is gearing up for launch and Reliance and Sun are set to follow' CAS could be the survival strategy for the unorganised cable industry.