The Statesman, 22nd April 2003
By Subhajit Banerjee,
Kolkata: Even before its launch, Conditional Access System (CAS) continues to create enough controversies to assure a permanent place in newspaper headlines.
And the foremost among them is whether CAS will be able to provide a number of options to the consumer when eventually it is launched in four metros from 15 July.
Ideally, CAS should allow viewers to pick and pay for their chosen channels. However, according to consumer interest associations and cable operators, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill does not address most concerns of the consumer.
Lack of awareness is a major issue, as most consumers are still clueless about how CAS will affect them when they automatically become a part of the system from 15 July. A survey by CUTS, a consumer organisation, found that 70 per cent respondents across the four metros are not familiar with the system.
As of now, only the rates for the Free-to-Air (FTA) channels have been fixed. The information & broadcasting minster Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad said the cable operator must provide 30 FTA channels at the rate of Rs 72.00. But it is not clear who will decide upon those 30 channels when hundreds are on offer. Ideally, it should be the consumer, but in this case it is the government which has determined the mix (comprising Doordarshan channels, regional channels, news and entertainment).
The consumer must therefore watch only those 30 channels which his cable operator provides and forego his favourite channels, though they might be FTA. A member of the working committee (which was in charge of recommending the FTA price) feels this is an ideal mix. No need to ask the consumer!
Monitoring bodies have not been appointed either to ensure smooth running or address consumer grievances. So the consumer can’t choose or change his cable operator or turn to anyone else apart from consumer rights bodies if he is unhappy with the service. However, he may approach the nearest police station in case of overcharging by cable operator, being forced to buy set-top box of a particular make, non-publication of subscription rates or in case operators do not route pay channels through set-top boxes.
Most of the pay channels are being offered in bouquets. But the pricing of the bouquets has only been proposed and not fixed yet.
The Centre has no authority to fix these rates. Whether the consumer will be able to select individual channels from the bouquet or must subscribe to the entire bouquet, and at what rate, is yet unclear. The monthly bill of the consumer is also bound to increase by a considerable amount, given the varied tastes of the family members. A family which wants to subscribe to three bouquets — Zee Turner, Star and Sony Discovery, will have to shell out at least Rs 140 (proposed rate) along with the FTA charge of Rs 72.
The multi-system operators, claimed the CEO of a city MSO, have been asking the broadcasters to decide which pay channels will turn FTA as well as what the pricing of the bouquets will be. The broadcasters are still in discussion.
The set-top boxes cost anything between Rs 3,000 to Rs 7,000. But consumers are in the dark as to where they can be procured from.
The Amendment Bill asks the consumers should procure it themselves. But not many of the 6.4 million households across four metros paying an average of Rs 150 per month currently, will be able afford it. Another concern raised by a media watchdog is that on the eve of CAS introduction, a number of pay channels might turn free, rendering set-top boxes unnecessary.