CAS: At The Final Leg, Govt Lays Off Consumers

New Delhi, July 29: | Updated: Jul 30 2003, 05:30am hrs
Just one month to go for the conditional access system (CAS) rollout, and we have yet another taskforce. The government is calling the latest one an implementation committee, instead of a taskforce. If names meant anything, this committee would ensure smooth implementation of CAS in the four metros starting September 1. Numerous taskforce meetings have already deliberated on CAS matters for around two years now.

Despite the decision to form a CAS implementation committee, government officials admit that nothing much can be done about cable operators threat to hike rates from August or the so-called honeymoon package being rejected by stakeholders.

Interestingly, in the final leg of CAS, consumer groups are not part of the implementation committee at all. But a government order issued on Tuesday said the committee would interact with representatives of consumer protection groups and take steps to address their concerns. Pay broadcasters such as Star, Zee, and Sony, would be represented by their chiefs Peter Mukherjea, Subhash Chandra and Kunal Dasgupta, respectively in the committee. Others in the panel would include Aaj Taks G Krishnan and CNBC TV-18s Raghav Behl, SitiCables Rajiv Khattar, InCables Rajiv Vyas, Hathways K Jayaraman, RPGs Dilip Sen, and independent cable operators Roop Sharma and Anil Parab. Additional secretary Vijay Singh would chair the committee. Some of the key players of the earlier taskforce such as Zee group vice-chairman Jawahar Goel and ESPNs Manu Sawhney are not in the new committee.

The first meeting of the committee will be held in Mumbai sometime in the first week of August. At least four meetings are expected before the rollout.

The issues at hand include quality of set-top boxes, the technical aspects of CAS and pricing of pay channels. Even as the government has said this before, it has reiterated that broadcasters have promised to announce their final CAS rates along with incentives. SitiCable has already gone public with a buy-one-get-one kind of a scheme, whereby if a consumer buys a set-top box early, he gets to watch pay channels free for a month. Other are expected to join in. Siti has also offered to give all pay channels for Rs 128 a month.

Meanwhile, the finance ministry has indicated to the I&B ministry that import duty concessions on set-top boxes will be extended till the end of September. As for action against offenders, I&B officials said, exemplary action against bad cases of piracy would be taken.