Bill Passed To Pave The Way For CAS

New Delhi: | Updated: Dec 11 2002, 05:30am hrs
After a series of hiccups, the Cable Television Network Amendment Bill 2002 was unanimously passed in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, to enable introduction of the conditional access system (CAS) in the country. CAS or the addressability system is all about making set-top box mandatory for viewing pay channels. The CAS debate, in which 17 members participated, lasted over three hours. Interestingly, several Opposition MPs are away in Gujarat for election campaign.

The CAS Bill had earlier been passed in the Lok Sabha in May, but was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha. Information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj wanted to have a consensus on the Bill outside Parliament, before tabling it.

Piloting the Bill on Tuesday, Ms Swaraj said CAS would provide protection to the consumers. They would be required to pay for only those channels that they want to view and not for the arbitrarily prepared bouquet by the broadcasters, she said. This would also put to rest the controversy of actual subscriber numbers, which had all along been a contention between the broadcasters and cable operators, she added.

Although many television broadcasters had been opposed to CAS, only recently their representative bodyIndian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF)has come out in support of the issue. Besides broadcasters, MPs belonging to the Congress and Left parties were also against the CAS Bill earlier. Among other issues, government control over the basic tier is considered the main hurdle in the CAS regime. Significantly, however, Ms Swaraj said that the government would fix the number of channels in the basic tier, but would not specify the channels.

But, what will CAS actually offer On one hand, it is viewed as an instrument which will help the subscriber choose only those channels which he wants, based on his willingness to pay. On the other, those opposing CAS felt there isnt much freedom for the subscriber in CAS. Reason: Government control over the basic tier may result in the shift of some free-to-air channels to the pay regime.

Coming to the basics, CAS is all about two tiersbasic and pay. A consumer can view channels in the basic tier without installing a set-top box, at a fixed monthly tariff. The number of channels and the tariff in the basic tier will be fixed by the government. The pay tier will, however, be decided by the market forces.

While the basic and pay tiers are yet to be fixed along with their cost, the set-top boxes are expected to be available in the range of Rs 3,000 onwards. In a memorandum to Ms Swaraj a couple of months ago, cable operators had said that the basic tier should not be fixed for anything less than Rs 180 per month. A taskforce comprising government officials and cable operators is likely to meet on Wednesday to take a decision on the basic tier and its composition.

As for implementation of CAS, the industry has been given six months as the switching over period in metros and other major cities. The issue came into limelight way back in 1997 when for the first time Cable Networks Association had given its proposal to the government for introducing CAS.