Lok Sabha amends Cable Television Networks bill to digitise cable tv

New Delhi:A bill aimed at fast-tracking the digitalisation of cable TV was passed by Lok Sabha Tuesday, with the government assuring cable operators that the proposed move would not harm them.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, who had earlier introduced the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Second Amendment Bill, said the measure was a major step which would enable digitisation of the analog TV network and bring India on a par with other countries like US, Britain, Korea and Taiwan.

The digitisation is expected to boost the subscription revenues for broadcasters as it promises to end hefty carriage fee they pay to the cable TV operators.

According to an estimate, carriage and placement fee contribute around 20 percent of the total cost of running a channel. Under the new regime, all satellite channels will be beamed to houses through set-top boxes.

The cable and satellite television industry is expected to be worth Rs.20,000 crore.

Though some members voiced their unhappiness at the content being broadcast on some channels, including those telecasting news, virtually all present supported the bill.

Allaying apprehensions of cable operators that the new act would render them jobless, Soni said such fears were misplaced and underlined that the key concern of the government was the viewers’ interest.

“The prices of set-top boxes will fall. These will be available on instalments and on rent. Also, viewers do not have to take a whole bouquet of channels. TRAI will impose a tariff capping for subscribing to channels,” she said.

The minister contended that this legislation would end the fight for more TRPs among channels.

“When we issue notices to channels or take them to court for showing objectionable content, they say we have to do so to get more TRPs as they bring the advertisements. Now the subscriber list will determine this,” Soni said.

The bill also allows the government the right to cancel licenses of cable operators who flout rules. “But this bill is not anti-poor and not against small operators. This is not for big players,” Soni said.

Justifying the government’s decision to bring an ordinance earlier, Soni said this was done to meet the deadline set for full digitalisation by Dec 31, 2014. The government will complete the process in four phases starting with the metros.

Under the new system, cable operators will have to give up analog in the four metros by March 31, 2012. Cities with a population of one million will be covered by March 31, 2013. All urban areas would be covered by September 30, 2014 while the entire country will be covered by Dec 31, 2014.

Soni said that the digitisation would provide consumers a la carte selection of channels and video-on-demand, among other things. It will also ensure transparency and reduce the dependence of the broadcasters and cable operators on TRP and ad revenues and raise subscription revenue, said Soni.

The government would also stand to benefit as it would ensure proper tax collection, she added.

Some members made a strong pitch for protecting the interests of customers, specially in rural areas.

Rajendra Agrawal of the BJP said that certain channels, identified by the government, should be designated free-to-air and not included in any package for which the consumer would have to pay.

He sought rules to fix the time for advertisements in between programmes and of social messages through the channels and called for regulation of content by the information and broadcasting ministry.

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