Non-implementation of Cable TV Act harassing operators, viewers
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India has mandated compulsory digitization of cable network by declaring sunset of the analogue system throughout the country. While digitization has been completed in Guwahati, non-implementation of the Cable TV Act by negligent authorities has led to a disgruntled atmosphere among operators who have made huge investments in the digital transition but have failed to extract their revenues accordingly.
The Cable TV Operators Forum of Assam (COFA) demanded the implementation of the Cable TV Act in order to regulate the digitization. It was instructed to withdraw the analogue system within 31st March, 2014 which was extended till 31st March 2015. But in Assam it was again extended till March, 2016. The areas under municipality and town committees of Assam fall under Phase 3 whose deadline had been fixed for 31st December, 2015 and the other areas under Phase 4, which is set to be digitized, has been extended till 31st December, 2016.
The cable TV industry is governed by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995. The various provisions of the Act and Regulation have been entrusted to the District Magistrate, Additional District Magistrate, Sub-divisional Magistrate at ground level who are the authorized officers for implementation of the same. But the authorised persons have not taken any action regarding the implementation of the Act.
Speaking to G Plus, General Secretary of COFA, Iquebal Ahmed said, “In Guwahati, 100% digitization has been done but the cable TV operators are taking the same rent as earlier when the operators should be now paid per channel subscriptions. There are different schemes in the digital process outright purchase of which the price should be declared by the Multi System Operators (MSOs) as also for the monthly rental and hire purchase schemes. There are two systems – “Ala Carte” which consists of single channel and “Bouquet” which has a diamond pack of different channels. People can select their channels according to their choice and payments can be made accordingly. But the authorized officers have not implemented the system for which the cable TV operators are facing losses.”
The cable operators are shocked and surprised about the recent decision of the state government to increase the Amusement and Betting Tax (A&BT) from Rs. 10 to Rs. 20 per subscriber per month and the operators have strongly condemned this decision of the state government and for considering the cable TV industry as an avenue for only ploughing in taxes while not taking any responsibility to protect the interests of the cable industry and the operators.
The Cable TV operators also held a meeting and decided to submit a memorandum pointing out the issues that the cable TV industry, although recognized as a small scale industry in 1994 itself, is yet to get the benefits from the state government. The Government of Assam which has already levied an amount of Rs. 25 per month per connection of Direct to Home Service (DTH) subscribers is unable to produce the facts and figures of the amount collected from the DTH in a query sought through RTI.
It has been alleged by the cable TV operators that they are subjected to harassment from various quarters due to ignorance of rules and regulations by the authorized officers under state government leading to closure of networks. Presently, the state government has conferred the responsibility on the Information and Public Relation Department to look after matters related to cable TV and which is not the competent authority as per the Act. They also alleged that the state government is unable to collect a single penny from the pay channel broadcasters who are collecting huge amounts in revenue.
The cable TV operators demanded that a tax holiday up to 2018 as operators are already over burdened by the investments made for the transition from analogue to digital. They have also demanded that subsidy should be given in A&BT for multiple connections as most of the subscribers have more than one TV and therefore the operators appealed to subsidize the A&BT rate for the multiple connections giving a relief to the subscribers. The state government shall take immediate and urgent steps to press the authorized officers as defined in the Cable TV Act to do the needful for implementation of its provisions.
The government had taken the decision to digitize cable TV through which they would have the information as to how many households have cable connection. The government would collect entertainment tax accordingly and the pay channels would also get the advantage out of it. The pay channels subsequently will get to know how many households are viewing which channels and accordingly they will fix the rate. Earlier, through cable system they used to get just a minimum amount but after it gets digitalized and they will be able to charge fees according to channels subscribed by the public from the MSO and the MSO will, in turn, charge from the cable operators.
Cable TV operators demand tax holiday up to 2018
The digitization of 4th phase in the state has been extended to 31st December, 2016
100% digitization has been done in Guwahati
COFA demands to implement the Cable TV Act
Subsidy in A&BT should be given in multiple connections
It has been alleged by the cable TV operators that they are subjected to harassment from various quarters due to ignorance of rules and regulations by the authorized officers under state government leading to closure of networks. Presently, the state government has conferred the responsibility on the Information and Public Relation Department to look after matters related to cable TV which is not the competent authority as per the Act.
The Cable TV Act, 1995
Before the introduction of cable television in India, broadcasting was solely under the control of the State. The Government of India was caught unprepared with the emergence of cable networks and broadcasting through satellites in the early 1990s.
The cable market is divided into three categories. Broadcasters, who are at the top of the pyramid, the Multi-System Operators are in the middle and the local cable operators are at the bottom of the pyramid.
Object of the Act
The object of the Act was to regulate the ‘haphazard mushrooming of cable television networks’. Due to the lack of licensing mechanism for cable operators, it resulted in a large number of cable operators, broadcasting programmes without any regulation. This was due to the availability of signals from foreign television networks via satellite communication. The access to foreign television networks was considered to be a “cultural invasion” as these channels portrayed western culture. The Act aimed at regulating content and operation of cable networks.
Amendment to the Act in 2003
Numerous complaints were received by the Government stating that there has been unreasonable price hike in cable television by the cable operators. Moreover, the cable operator were not paying appropriate revenue by concealing there income and under-reporting their income. A special task force instituted by the government, in its study, noted that the consumers do not have the choice to select the premium channels they wanted to watch. In order to give choice to the consumer it recommended the introduction of conditional access systems (CAS). This would require the consumers to set up set-top boxes which will allow the consumers to view all the free to air channel and he can choose to watch any of the premier channels for a charge.
Multiple System Operators (MSO)
Multiple system operators (MSO) are operators of multiple cable television systems. The majority of system operators run cable systems in more than one community and hence most of them are multiple system operators. Multiple system operators are companies that acquire multiple CATV systems brought under control of single corporate entity where individual CATV systems may or may not be combined to single networks or combined at regional or metropolitan levels. In India, Digicable, with 3,25,00,500 subscribers is one of the biggest MSOs in the world.