Thursday, May 29, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
Concerned that consumers may end up paying much for cable television from July 15 when CAS is scheduled to be implemented in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata the Congress today issued a statement noting that ``the ultimate objective in the context of which the Bill was conceived and passed seems to have been lost sight of by the Government''.
According to the Congress, ``till all outstanding issues are sorted out and consumers are assured of the availability of a bouquet of channels both `free-to-air' and `pay' at affordable prices, keeping in mind the availability and pricing of the set-top boxes'', the implementation of CAS should be postponed.
Also, the Congress voiced many of the concerns being aired now when the then Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Sushma Swaraj, introduced the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2002, in Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Information and Broadcasting Secretary, Pawan Chopra, today indicated that the Ministry could well consider another amendment to the Act to rein in the stake-holders, who may harbour ``designs to gain undue profit by exploiting the consumer.''
With a clear-cut directive from the Prime Minister to protect consumer interests, the Ministry is monitoring the evolving situation closely and is in constant touch with all the stake-holders. Given the concerns expressed in several quarters about the availability of set-top boxes needed to access pay channels the Ministry has also begun asking the cable operators and the Multi-System Operators (MSOs) to furnish details of not just the orders placed but the actual arrivals.
Though the Ministry is considering all options to ensure a seamless rollover to the new regime, it is still reluctant to mandate that pay channels will be advertisement-free as is the rule elsewhere in the world.
Explaining the Ministry's reluctance to do so, Mr. Chopra said the CAS legislation was designed to keep Government's interference to the minimum. ``We would prefer the market forces to dictate where advertisers put their money.'' This said, he did not completely rule it out; stating that a mechanism to regulate pay channels would have to be put in place at some point of time.
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