Opposition to CAS in Chennai Gains Momentum-STBs required even for Free Channels??



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 granted?

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 being.

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  Monopoly?

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 Obsolete?

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 Chennai Silent?

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.

Action Plan

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.


September 3, 2003

Related Articles:

CAS Regime....Issues still to be Resolved

Spam Enters Indian TV Broadcasting

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