17 January 2004, The Hindu Business Line

NEW DELHI, JAN 16: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) consultation note on the conditional access system (CAS) has set the ball rolling with various stakeholders – broadcasters, cable service providers and the broadcasters – working out their responses to protect their turf.

The broadcasters are expected to put up a united front under the aegis of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF).

“We will discuss the various issues among ourselves first and will then meet the TRAI under the IBF banner,” said a pay broadcaster.

Issues regarding transparency in declaration, pay channel rates and advertising cap on pay channels are matters of concern for pay broadcasters. The cable industry, on its part, is concerned about broadcasters bullying them to declare and pay for higher connectivity.

“Also the revenue share arrangement between the broadcaster, multi-system operator (MSO) and last mile operator (LMO) need to be sorted out,” said a cable industry source. The cable industry has in particular also referred to ESPN-Star Sports, which raised its subscription fee to Rs 40 in the month of December.

Consumer groups have also started responding to the TRAI paper. In order to make CAS consumer friendly, the Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) has sent a seven-point charter of demands.

The suggestions include that the total monthly outlay must not exceed the pre-CAS expenditure and that viewers should not be forced to pay for channels not watched by them. Moreover, monthly rentals should not be hiked arbitrarily and there should be an efficient complaint redressal mechanism, the society has said.

TRAI had yesterday also notified that cable rates be frozen at those existing on December 26, 2003.

This had led to confusion as CAS has been implemented in Chennai and South Delhi, but has not taken off in the other metros.

Cable operators today said that in CAS zones, the CAS rates would be applicable (Rs 72 plus taxes for free-to-air channels plus the rates circulated for pay channels), while in non-CAS areas the prevailing monthly subscription rates would be charged.

The Consultation note will look into various issues such as rates of pay channels, bundling of channels, terms and conditions for set top boxes (STBs), revenue sharing agreements between broadcasters and service providers and advertising on pay channels.