Ads planned to counter campaign against CAS

NEW DELHI MAY 22. With some broadcasters indulging in a "misinformation'' campaign regarding expenses that consumers may have to incur on account of the Conditional Access System (CAS), the Information and Broadcasting Ministry is planning a series of advertisements to counter this bid to derail the new regime in cable television.

The Ministry's campaign will seek to set the record straight vis-a-vis the cost of the set-top boxes (STBs) — needed to access pay channels — as well as other grey areas. This has been necessitated by the fact that some broadcasters — who have of late developed cold feet with regard to CAS — have been beaming regular advertisements urging consumers to buy STBs which could "cost up to Rs. 7,000."

This, according to Ministry officials, is an inflated price. As per official estimates, even with customs duty, the analog STBs would not cost more than Rs. 3,500 and the digital boxes a maximum of Rs. 5,000 a piece.

Maintaining that the CAS would roll out as per schedule on July 14 in the four metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, officials said that they were not even considering a month-old proposal of broadcasters that the new regime be introduced only in one city to begin with.

The broadcasters had last month suggested that the new regime be made effective in Chennai first as it was not a pay channel-driven city like Delhi and Mumbai. The Ministry is of the view that teething problems would remain whenever CAS is introduced and, therefore, deferring it would be of little use.

About political pressure from the BJP to defer or rollback the CAS, officials said they had not received any representations to this effect from the ruling party. Even the BJP today appeared uncertain about what stance to take on this issue with the party president, Venkaiah Naidu, stating that the issue was being studied internally while the spokesman, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, denied this later in the day. However, both maintained that the party had made no effort to stall CAS as is being made out.

Given that the apprehensions stem from the cost factor and the possibility of cable television costing more under the new regime than it does at present, the Ministry is likely to seek afresh a temporary freeze on customs duty on STBs though there is pressure from domestic manufacturers — expected to enter the market with indigenous versions of STBs by the year-end — against such a measure.

Also, with a view to giving real choice to consumers, notification/subordinate legislation is being considered to prevent bunching of pay channels by broadcasters. With broadcasters planning to lure consumers into opting their entire bouquet by pricing it more attractively than individual channels — priced steep — the notification will mandate that the price of no one channel exceeds the average price of the channels in a bouquet by between five and10 per cent.

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