The government is more or less gearing up to the fact that the
rollout of CAS would start happening around May-June at the earliest.
A ministry official, when asked earlier about the feedback from
the MSOs on CAS rollout did admit, "Most of the big ones (like Zee
Group cable arm Siticable, the Star-affiliated Hathway, INCableNet
and RPG) have indicated that it cannot be done before April-May.
It's fine by us as by then, we'd have finalised the price of the
basic tier of free to air channels too."
The next impediment to the smooth rollout of CAS can be the pricing
of the basic tier. While the government would like to keep the price
of the basic tier below Rs 100 per month per home, inclusive of
local taxes, some cable operators feel that such a price would be
too low. A figure of Rs 125 is something which they have been looking
at, considering the investments that would have to be made in the
upgradation of cable head-ends.
Here again, there is a difference of opinion. While big MSOs like
Siticable are not much bothered about the pricing of the basic tier
of service, it is the big independent cable operators who feel a
very cheap basic tier will spoil their business.
Adding to the complex scenario - remember the issue of availability
of adequate number of set-top boxes is still to be sorted out -
is Siti Cable's claims that it would go in for a conditional access
in digital mode and, if allowed, via the head-end in the sky (HITS)
project which envisages uplinking TV channels in an encrypted form
from a master control room after which cable operators can just
downlink the signals for re-transmission on their respective networks.
It is also interesting to see that Siticable in its feedback to
the I&B ministry has clearly said that the government should look
at reducing or rationalising the customs duties on import of set-top
boxes. A fact which is an indication that MSOs are looking at importing
STBs initially rather than depend on manufacturing to begin in India.
Sources in Siticable say STBs sourced out of Taiwan and other far
East countries can be got within $ 45. These boxes while not being
of very high quality are adequate for Indian conditions, they say.
As to what the cost to Indian consumers would be, accounting for
duties and landing costs, it would be in the Rs 4,000 to Rs 4,500
range they say.
Well, the CAS die is now officially cast and now it is for the
industry to act on it.
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