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No rollback on CAS; July 14 deadline to remain

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THE Government today categorically said that there would be no rollback on the implementation of a conditional access system (CAS) and the deadline of July 14 would remain.

After a meeting of the task force on the implementation of CAS, senior officials in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry squashed all doubts about postponement and said that broadcasters would have to come up with their pricing of channels by middle of June. They also added that the Government would not permit bundling of channels or allow broadcasters to price their channels in such a way that the cable operators would have no option but to buy complete bouquets.

Meanwhile, pay channels today reiterated that they would not go free-to-air. Star India's Chief, Mr Peter Mukherjea today told newspersons that post-CAS most of the existing encrypted channels would remain pay. "We have decided to remain pay," he said. Broadcasters, however, asked the cable operators on their preparedness for CAS. "When asked how many set-top boxes (STBs) would be available on July 15, we told the broadcasters that these numbers would depend on the demand. If there are six million cable homes, it does not mean that there will be a demand for those many boxes. Our orders will depend on the requirement," said a member of the task force, who is part of the cable industry.

Cable operators today also asked broadcasters to come in the open and declare the individual rates for various channels. They also protested against the negative campaign about CAS, especially on the price of STBs. Today's meeting was chaired by Mr Sudhir Sharma, Joint Secretary, I&B Ministry, and attended by Mr Mukherjea, ESPN-Star Sports head, Mr Manu Sawhney, Siticable's Mr Jawahar Goel, Mr Rakesh Dutta of Cable Networks Association, Ms Roop Sharma of Cable Operators Federation of India (COFI), among others.

But even as the CAS controversy continues, the political machinery also seems to have got active. Some broadcasters have made a petition to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) seeking intervention. They have asked the PMO to take a fresh look at the various issues related to implementation of conditional access (CAS) in India. The broadcasters expect that the PMO would see some reason in their viewpoint and may step in to resolve the situation that many feel would unleash chaos in the short run.

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