CAS Soft Launch On July 15

New Delhi, June 27: | Updated: Jun 28 2003, 05:30am hrs
Short of announcing a rollback, the government on Friday indicated that the conditional access system (CAS) would be soft-launched on July 15. So, a cable TV viewer in metros would be able to watch all pay channels even without set-top boxes post-CAS.

In official terms, there wont be any penal provision against those beaming or watching pay channels without set-top boxes after the launch of CAS. But, this arrangement will apply only till such time that set-top boxes are not available in sufficient numbers, said information and broadcasting secretary Pawan Chopra.

It is now open to interpretation whether CAS has gone the VAT way, in the run up to Assembly elections in four states.

Having taken a fresh view on CAS, I&B minister met deputy prime minister L K Advani late evening on Friday. Mr Advani was informed about the government plans of a soft launch of CAS. Also, Mr Prasad explained how dual illumination system works in the cable TV industry. Interestingly, health & parliamentary affairs minister and former I&B minister Sushma Swaraj, who is seen as the original force behind CAS, had earlier assured cable operators that CAS would not be deferred.

The bill to introduce CAS was passed last year, making use of set-top boxes mandatory for viewing pay channels. CAS is all about viewing pay channels of your choice by using set-top boxes, and paying for only those channels, besides a fixed amount for a minimum of 30 free-to-air channels. However, the government has now taken a soft view of things by stating that set-top boxes will not be mandatory for viewing pay channels after the scheduled launch date of July 15, citing shortage of boxes.

The government is not giving any figures as to what would qualify as sufficient number of set-top boxes, to make them mandatory for viewing pay channels. Also, officials are not stating the duration for which penal provisions would not apply, where pay channels are offered without set-top boxes. An assessment is being done, said Mr Chopra. The official reason behind governments soft posture is that CAS should not turn out like CNG queues in the absence of boxes.

Those (mainly broadcasters such as Star and Sony) opposing CAS have been stressing all along that CAS implementation should be done in a phased manner. Although the government is not calling it a phased introduction, in effect it will be just that.

Just when the government dropped its hitherto tough stand on CAS implementation, broadcasters including Star, Sony and ESPN have decided to offer their driver channels within the mandated monthly rate of Rs 200. This is in keeping with Prime Minister A B Vajpayees directive to implement CAS in a consumer-friendly way. Broadcasters will meet I&B officials on Monday to finalise pricing of channels.

Even as the government and broadcasters seem to have done a pact, television viewers may have to fight out another battle with cable operators. As several cable biggies and operators have already spent large amount of money on CAS infrastructure and set-top boxes, some of them threatened to hike the monthly rates to Rs 450 if CAS was not implemented, the way it was projected earlier.

On Friday morning, a group of cable operators had met Delhi BJP president Madan Lal Khurana, whos been demanding deferment of CAS, urging him to change his stand. If CAS is not implemented the consumer will suffer. The rates of cable TV services will go up to around Rs 450, Roop Sharma of Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI) told reporters after the meeting. Cable operators met Ms Swaraj after that for an assurance.