Ordinance to regulate cable operations mooted

NEW DELHI MAY 29. So eager is the Information & Broadcasting Ministry to regulate cable operations and empower the Government with the right to mandate installation of an addressable system for accessing pay channels that it is now exploring the option of promulgating an Ordinance to bring in The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002.

Having failed to get Parliament's nod for the Bill — introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha in the last week of the second part of the Budget session, and pending introduction in the Rajya Sabha — I&B Ministry is learnt to be exploring all options to make the provisions of the amendment effective without further delay. And, an ordinance is one of them.

The Bill, according to the statement of objects and reasons, the amendment seeks to "regulate the operation of cable television networks in the country so as to bring uniformity in their operations, and to avoid undesirable programmes from being made available to the viewers...''.

While I&B officials claimed that the arbitrary hiking of cable charges necessitated an early intervention, the haste is sure to raise eyebrows; given the fact that the Ministry has already been accused of bringing in the amendment under pressure from the manufacturers of set-top boxes through which the pay-channels can be accessed under the new regime.

While the amendment empowers the Central Government to issue a notification making it is obligatory for every cable operator to show any pay channel through an addressable system from a stipulated date, the provision is for staggered introduction of the conditional access system.

Through the amendment, the Central Government also acquires for itself the power to fix the maximum amount, which a cable operator may charge a subscriber for receiving free-to-air channels included in the basic service tier. This could vary from State to State and city to city.

Also, the Central Government can fix the number of free-to-air channels to be included in the package of channels forming the basic service tier as also specify one or more free-to-air channels to be included in this section. While this provision, according to the Ministry, has been included to ensure a berth for the main Doordarshan channels in the main bouquet of channels, there is also a proviso for stipulating a programme mix of entertainment, information and education.

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