As the CAS regime entered the third
day in Chennai, Consumers are perturbed by the silence in the local
political circles. After Sheila Dikshit, Bal Thakrey and the CPM
Government in Kolkata rejected introduction of CAS in their respective
cities, people in Chennai were expecting Ms Jayalalithaa also to ask for
deferment of the introduction. The fact that there is no word from the
CM's office has left every consumer confused.
After observing the silence from the
Government circles, Consumers have started organizing themselves to
express their opposition to the move. The leading consumer activist in
Chennai Mr M.B. Nirmal, founder of Exnora, along with several consumer
activists organized a debate on the introduction of the CAS in Chennai.
Several members of he Press, representatives of Cable TV operators and a
senior official from Hathway (one of the two MSO s in Chennai) attended
the meeting. The other MSO namely SCV (Sumangali Cable Vision, owned by
the DMK faction of the state which also owns SUN TV network) did not
attend the meeting.
Following is the summary of the
views expressed during the meeting.
Are Chennaites being taken for
One of the first objections to the
CAS scheme was that the introduction was sudden and no proper notice was
given to the consumers. The fact that the consumers woke up on 1st to find
notices in their TV that a certain Channel is a paid channel and the
viewers should contact the office of the MSO for further information
irritated most people.
Coupled with the suddenness of the
introduction, the fact that none of the Broadcasters had announced their
prices on 1st September, (Some information became available on 2nd
September) and no MSO had provided copies of contracts to the consumers
made it look as if the Consumer did not matter before such an important
decision was being imposed.
The words of the I&B minister that
there would be transparency, prior notice, honey-moon period etc all
appeared hollow promises just to favour the Broadcaster lobby.
Many observed that there should have
been an official of the I&B ministry in Chennai to answer all the queries
that Chennai people are raising rather than a forum of consumers trying to
gather information on their own.
The fact that there was no
representative of the "Regulator" in Chennai was evident by the fact that
SCV urged Hathway Viewers getting KTV transmission to file a Police
complaint against Hathway for "Stealing the signal". On the other hand,
some Cable operators (Hathway customers) showed newspaper reports to say
that KTV was a free to air (FTA) channel and confided that their customers
are asking why the channel is not being provided to them?. They even
indicated that they would move the Police to see that either KTV is
declared a FTA channel or that it should be removed from the SCV free
feed. This naturally raised a hue of protest from consumers some of whom
were getting the KTV feed from their SCV connections.
It was not however clear if different
MSO s can have different sets of FTA channels and one channel can be FTA
in one place and Pay channel in another place, or an FTA with one MSO and
not so with the other.
If it is anti-people in Delhi, is
it not so in Chennai also?
One of the strongest oppositions
expressed for the introduction of CAS came from the fact that Chennai was
the only place in India chosen for the experimentation.
Both Congress and BJP agreed that in
Delhi, due to the forthcoming elections, the introduction of CAS needs to
be deferred. This is a clear indication that the system is not considered
people friendly and hence not suitable for introduction for the time
If the system is not people friendly
in Delhi, why it is not so in Chennai?..was the question uppermost in the
minds of all the consumers who attended the meeting. It was felt that the
system is meant only to help the Broadcasters and MSOs and not the public.
It appears that the Politicians want
the votes of the Delhi public now and perhaps have clandestinely agreed
with MSOs and Broadcasters to introduce the CAS system after the elections
so that they will not lose their patronage in the pre-election period.
Will it Not Create create a
Yet another point on which consumers
were strongly perturbed was the fact that, while at present the Chennai
cable industry is a duopoly between Hathway and SCV, introduction of Set
Top Boxes (STB) which are MSO specific will irrevocably bind the consumers
to one single MSO. While Hathway is at least offering STBs on rental
basis, SCV has only an outright purchase option. Once a consumer buys an
SCV STB, he cannot change over to Hathway without discarding an investment
of around Rs 4500/-.
The absence of competition makes the
introduction of STBs an imposition from the regulator for the benefit of
the industry and to the disadvantage of the consumer.
Are Costs going to Double?
It was calculated that the cost of
viewing all the channels available before introduction of the CAS would be
around Rs 400/- in the CAS regime based on the information so far
available. Considering the fact that at present the same services were
available from Rs 175 to a maximum of Rs 325/-, the introduction of CAS
would increase the cost of this home entertainment to every one.
Some questioned the wisdom of the
regulators who consider a Rs 4500 cost on STBs as bearable when many
members of the public are using Black and White TVs costing Rs 1800-2000.
Will the Technology Become
Participants also pointed out that
the technology of STBs as being introduced will be obsolete shortly and
the investment in STB s will therefore be a total waste. Though one of the
representatives of a prospective manufacturer highlighted the multiple
functions that an STB can perform, he was not able to clarify the cost of
the STBs in the present version or on the enhanced version. It was pointed
out that many of the advanced features promised would be available in the
Internet feed when adequate bandwidth is available and hence we do not
need STB s for the purpose.
Is it Legal?
Apart from the discriminatory
treatment given to Chennai population in the whole episode, it was pointed
out that as long as the Pay Channels continue to have advertisements, the
Broadcasters are open to the charge of "Spamming". Since the signals of TV
channels would be "Digitized", they would be coming within the provisions
of laws for the Internet. Even though India still does not have a law on
Spamming, it is a law which has been established internationally. Once the
TV Broadcasting through digitized broadcast is legally indistinguishable
from Internet broadcast, it would be inevitable for the laws of Internet
and TV to converge.
The Government would have to either
declare "Spamming" as legal in the Internet Space or ban advertising on
the Pay channels. Any intermediary decision would be untenable in law.
Why are Political Parties in
Many of the participants in the
debate were unable to understand how both DMK and AIADMK are in favour
of CAS for the time being. It is understandable that DMK being the ally
of the BJP at the center and owning SCV, would support CAS . SCV
supposedly has stocked up more than 140,000 STBs to support the CAS
introduction even though its own network channels are being offered in the
FTA category. However it is not possible to understand why AIADMK has not
so far come out in support of the people.
A Shocking Revelation
During the course of the discussions,
the Hathway representative and few of the Cable TV operators suggested
that it would not be feasible for them to continue offering Free Channels
alone without the introduction of STBs. The indication was clear that they
expected to force the consumers to buy STBs even if they opted to stay
only with the free channels.
The cable operator suggested that he
will have to draw separate cables for FTA feed and Non FTA feed to
different buildings and hence introduction of CAS without STBs as some
suggested would not be feasible.
This raised an uproar in the
gathering with some suggesting that if this was true then "The Minister
should be crucified".
It was however clear from the
suggestion that sooner or later, Cable TV operators would force every one
to buy STBs and may refuse to serve the free channels without STBs. With
only two MSOs operating, Consumers would therefore be forced to buy STBs
even to view free channels.
This is a new angle which needs
explanation fromthe PM and the I&B Minister.
After a lengthy discussion of the
above issues, the forum resolved as follows.
1. To Recommend Consumers not to
buy STBs for the time being and use only the free channels.
2. To make representations both
to the State Government and Central Government to defer the CAS system
until all the relevant issues are clarified.
3. To approach the Courts with a
PIL and pray for an interim stay on the introduction of the CAS system
Mr M.B.Nirmal will initiate further
action in this regard.