NATIONAL

BSNL to enter cable TV business

NEW DELHI, AUG. 1. The country's largest phone company, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), is trying to stem the surrender of its fixed phone services by entering the cable TV business. The company will first try out its phone-based cable TV venture in four townships around the national capital by this year-end.

At least 15,000 subscribers surrender their BSNL fixed phones though the company more than makes up for it with the spiralling sales of its mobile phone services. At the same time, it wants to cut down the surrender of landline phones by offering customers more than just voice telephony and low speed Internet services.

Tie-up with private firm

While a private company will persuade customers and offer content BSNL will take care of billing. The basic offer of 35 channels, five FM radio stations and Internet surfing will cost Rs. 699 a month. It could come down if the customer response is enthusiastic in the 38 cities where BSNL will leverage its massive reach into middle class homes into a more paying proposition by next year.

The two partners do not expect much resistance from the existing cable operators since BSNL is a Government-owned company and any sabotage of its phone lines could be countered by penal proceedings. The concept is simple. A BSNL engineer will split the wire and one will go into the phone as before and the other into the TV set. The customer will also have to buy a set top box that will record the viewership rate including downloading of latest movies.

The agreement with the Bermuda-based Atlas Interactive is non-exclusive and BSNL can strike similar arrangements with other companies to provide the content and sell the idea to its subscribers.

"There is a churn in landlines and they need to provide value-added services to retain their customers," says the Atlas Interactive India chairman, Abhishek Verma, who was last in the news when he was hauled up for allegedly breaching the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) but now feels that the past is behind him with the repeal of the legislation.

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