CAS: Chaos behind the scene

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 29, 2003
Broadcasters are battling with cable operators, who are battling disgruntled consumers in the first phase of the introduction of CAS in south Delhi

The Delhi High Court judgement on Thursday (December 25) came as a leg up for CAS rollout in the capital. With this judgement the High Court squashed the de-notification of CAS implementation in the capital by the Centre on August 29, 2003. This move, in effect, means the Government will have to re-notify CAS in Delhi and work out a schedule for its implementation in the capital. "We allow the Centre to go ahead with the scheme in Delhi to be reviewed after a period of three months," a vacation Bench of Justice Vijender Jain and Justice Pradeep Nandrajog said.

To put things in perspective, the Union Government had earlier this year identified three pockets each in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai for CAS implementation. The Government, however, had to do a u-turn in the three metros following resistance from local governments, with Chennai being the only city to go with the much-debated conditional access system.

As the Government went back and forth on its decision on conditional access - which mandates that pay channels be viewed only through a set top box, with free-to-air channels available to subscribers at a government fixed rate of Rs 72 - both cable operators and subscribers claim they are getting the wrong end of the stick.

"No one in our locality was informed by our local cable operator that CAS would be implemented on December 14," complains Mr Sharma, a resident of Alaknanda, near Kalkaji in south Delhi. "There was no mention of set-top-boxes when the cable guy came to collect the monthly cable bill," says Mrs Dubey, a resident of Safdarjung Development Area. A dozen more cable subscribers agencyfaqs! spoke to at random echoed a similar sentiment. But ask cable operators how they could have gone ahead and blanked out channels without proper notice, another story of chaos and intrigue will unfold.

Informal conversations with cable operators and cable operators' associations in south Delhi revealed that of the total 350 operators in the area, nearly 320 operators have raised issues against CAS at various industry bodies at different points in time. First, they fear the relationship they have meticulously built with their subscribers over the years will go for a toss under CAS, and second, they aver if cable subscribers refuse to buy set-top-boxes, operators would have no way to sustain their businesses. Laments one, "If CAS is implemented; I will have to shut shop…"

To compound matters, cable operator claim multi-system operators (MSOs) have not briefed them about the hows and whys of CAS let alone keep them posted about how they could sustain their businesses under the CAS regime.

To give credit to the MSOs, a group of them recently announced their respective call centres are now equipped to answer all queries of customers, packing in the assurance that the local cable operators would adjust the inflated subscription money taken in advance for CAS against the January cable bill. But the core issue relating to the manner in which CAS is being enforced ("thrust upon us," says this writer's local cablewallah) remains unaddressed.

The biggest area of concern seems to relate to the procurement of the set-top-boxes (STBs). The ministry has gone on record saying that STBs are in plenty, but senior members of the cable fraternity say that against the official claim of 20,000 STBs, not more than 2,000 have actually been sold. According to a cable distributor in south Delhi, "About 1,600 STBs were sold in Jor Bahg, Defence Colony, New Friends Colony, Sukhdev Vihar, Alaknanda, Greater Kailash, Green Park, and adjoining areas. Some 300 boxes have been sold in Vasant Kunj and a handful, say about 50-60, in the government flats in areas such as RK Puram Sarojini Nagar, Lodhi Colony, Shrinivaspuri, Lakshmibai Nagar, Moti Bagh… In fact, in places such as Badarpur, Mehrauli, Sangam Vihar, Kotla, Jia Sarai, Madanpur Khadar and Bhogal no boxes have been sold. So where does the figure of 20,000 come from?"

Clearly, a lot of issues have to be thrashed out before the Government and the MSOs can even think of putting CAS on track. Till this confusion is sorted out, a bigger mystery has no chance to be solved: Who stands to gain from CAS? © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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