The Financial Express, 08th May 2003
New Delhi: Although the government had earlier turned down the broadcasters’ proposal for a phased introduction of the conditional access system (CAS), the same is being allowed now, with a variation. In what looks like a rollback of CAS, the government has decided to allow channels to opt for variable pricing.
Confirming the move, a senior official in the information and broadcasting ministry said: “The Act (which allows CAS) does not restrict broadcasters from offering dual feeds (both free-to-air and pay) within a city and across cities.”
Also, the pay channels can be priced as per the market requirements, he added.
So, a channel could be priced A in a certain locality, and B in another. And, the same channel could be offered as free-to-air in one locality, and as pay in another.
Even as some pay broadcasters said that offering dual feeds under CAS would be illegal, the government has taken quite a different view.
A Star official, however, said broadcasters had made a proposal for phased introduction of CAS sometime back.
While the demand was for introduction of CAS in one city before going on to another, now the government is indirectly letting broadcasters go for CAS in phases within a city.
But, this concept would work only when there’s a deadline given to a channel for attaining uniformity in being either pay or free-to air within a city, a channel official said. “Otherwise, what kind of CAS is this?” he asked.
The government, however, is not giving any timeframe by when a channel should be uniformly pay or free-to-air.
While denying that this move was a rollback of conditional access system, an I&B official said a second notification on CAS would ask pay channels to declare their rates, including the variable ones, among other things.
While dual feeds have been in existence for years in the pre-CAS era, consumer discrimination issues could arise because of variable pricing post-July 14, pointed out industry sources.
Consumer fora preferred to take a wait and watch attitude, but expressed concern over the discriminatory pricing issue.
Centre for Advocacy & Research executive director Akhila Sivadas, who was part of the first taskforce on CAS, interpreted the government move to allow variable pricing as “pragmatic adjustments”, as nobody’s ready to introduce CAS yet.
But she added that consumers are definitely going to protest against such a move. “The government has just put in place an obligatory framework,” she said.
However, if variable pricing is offered, viewers will stand up and ask questions, she added.
Another consumer forum which is active on CAS, Consumer Unity & Trust Society, examined the issue from a legal standpoint. Researcher Anjali Bansal said: “In principle, variable pricing is not illegal.” Channels could be priced differently across cities, as per the local demands, she said. It would be wrong to price the same channel differently within a city, she added.
Meanwhile, Star admitted on Wednesday that its news channel is being offered in dual mode already.
This is to ensure maximum reach of the channel, Star India COO Sameer Nair said. He assured that over a period of time Star News will be available only as a pay channel.