Consumer Interest Dominates Panel Meeting On CAS

New Delhi: | Updated: May 29 2003, 05:30am hrs
At a time when the government and the stakeholders in the conditional access system (CAS) are talking about consumer interest, add another to the list. The Parliamentary standing committee on Information Technology, which met here on Wednesday, also had the same theme of consumer interest on offer.

While BJP member Kirit Somaiya made a presentation on how consumers must be protected through CAS, some members made a case for free-to-air channels. Deliberations on a consumer-friendly approach are expected to continue at the committee meet on Thursday, when the information and broadcasting ministry talks about CAS and the way it wants to project the new broadcasting technology.

According to some members, all free-to-air channels should be made mandatory in the basic tier. Currently, the government guidelines stipulate a minimum of 30 free-to-air channels in the basic bouquet. But theres a feeling in the industry that cable operators may ask for a carriage fee, for any free-to-air channels beyond 30.

Congress MP Pawan Kumar Bansal told eFE that there are lingering doubts on how CAS will be rolled out. Availability of set-top box, its pricing, channel cost are some of the issues not sorted out yet. When CAS Bill was being passed, the assurance from the government was that the new system would be more consumer-friendly and affordable, he said. But the government has failed to address issues like how CAS would offer a choice to the viewers, he added.

Mr Somaiya, however, said that CAS was a logical answer to the current problems in cable TV. The present system does not offer any transparency or regulation, said Mr Somaiya, and therefore the need for CAS. Mr Somaiya indicated that too much was being made of the pay channels under CAS, and that free-to-air channels would be an option for many consumers.

All this on a day when I&B secretary Pawan Chopra said the government would consider further amending the Cable Act if it feels the need to discipline concerned players to ensure a consumer-friendly rollover to CAS.