Cable TV in Chennai back..and...Gone Again..What Next?



After the removal of CAS, Cable TV operators in Chennai were proposing to charge RS 350/- per month against Rs 250/- which was being charged before the CAS was introduced in September 2003.

Now it is reported that the Chennai High Court has issued a stay on the cancellation of the CAS. This would be welcome temporarily to stop the possibility of the imposition of the Rs 350 per month service which would have come to immediate effect.

However this problem needs to be addressed and the responsibility for this mis-adventure lies squarely with the Ministry of Broadcasting. The entire exercise was handled very irresponsibly and without consideration of the long term impact on the consumers and time has come for the Concerned minister to apologise to the residents of Chennai and also find a solution acceptable to the people of Chennai.

The  recent development with the High Court ruling  means that the Act is still applicable in Chennai and the Government is obligated to implement it fully. It would be in order for another public interest litigation to force the Central Government to implement the CAS as it was intended in full.

It is worth repeating that no regulation will be consumer friendly unless the monopoly on the last mile distribution is broken. It is fruitless for the Government to try any measure without addressing this need.

According to the Cable TV regulations, every Cable TV operator needs to apply for registration with the Head Post master of the City. The Cable Operators who were providing the service prior to the introduction of the law were given 90 days under Section 3 of the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act 1995. Now this time has elapsed in Chennai.

Operators who have not applied for registration automatically lose their right to carry on their business and the Government has no right to allow them continue to operate. The responsibility to impose this would naturally be on the Police authorities.

Simultaneously, any new applicant can apply for registration and the registering authority has the right to reject an application or allow registration of any number of persons in a locality. If the existing operators do not allow the new operators to function, again it would be the responsibility of the Police to protect the Cable network for which the consumer has paid money as well as protect the right of the new registrant to carry on the business.

In the last three months the existing cable TV operators have flouted the regulations in many ways such as the following;

1. The Free Channels were required to be provided at RS 72 per month. It was actually provided in most places at Rs 100 per month.

2. Receipts were required to be issued to the Consumers. It was mostly not issued.

3. Entertainment tax was payable to the State Government. It was mostly not paid.

4. Pay Channels were not allowed to be bunched according to the rules But only bouquet offers were made available.

5. ESPN and Star required one year commitments which was not allowed.

6.  ESPN illegally threatened the restaurants and other establishments from displaying their Channel to their customers.

In view of the above, none of the existing Cable TV operators would be eligible to continue even if they make fresh applications and their applications can be rejected by the registering authority.

In registering the operators, attention should be drawn to undertaking no (iii) in Form 2 according to which it is mandatory for the operator to provide satisfactory service. To monitor this, it should be made necessary for renewal that at least 50 % of the subscribers should certify that the service is satisfactory and a survey to that effect should be undertaken by an independent public body such as the Exnora. Also the registration should be cancelled any time if more than 50 % of the subscribers give an undertaking that the service is not satisfactory.

Though the primary responsibility for the regulation is that of the Central Government, it is necessary for the Central Government to appoint an officer in Chennai (Could be deputed from State Government) to be the controller for the system.

It is suggested that the TN State Government should interplead on behalf of the public in the case to request the court for directions that the regulation must be implemented in full if the stay has to stay and it be appointed as the agency to implement the regulation. The Central Government may file its no objection so that the new Cable TV operators can start their operations as quickly as possible.

If there are more than 4 operators start providing the service in each location, the prices will automatically come down. If there is any tendency to disturb law and order, the State Government should step in and if necessary take over the last mile Cable TV distribution as a State Government activity like the liquor shops and sand quarrying.



March 04, 2004

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