The suicide by Amritsar-based cable operator Jaswinder Singh Jassi, allegedly following harassment at the hands of officials of Fastway Transmission Private Limited, has brought to the fore the company’s virtual monopoly over the television cable business in Punjab.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) noted in a 2013 consultation paper on “Monopoly/market dominance in cable TV service” that more than 85% of the cable network business in Amritsar and Ludhiana was in the hands of a single multi-system operator (MSO). “No competitor of this group (Fastway) in Punjab has more than 10,000 subscribers despite the fact that the subscriber base in Punjab is of more than 40 lakh,” TRAI noted.
Fastway’s website claims that it is the “fastest-growing multisystem operator in north India. Among all MSOs, Fastway has deployed maximum number of set-top boxes in north India.”
Backed completely by the powers that be, Fastway has seen a growth curve like no other cable operator in the past decade. Its growth has, however, left a trail of stories of smaller and marginal cable operators forced to shut shop, unable to compete with the company.
Roop Sharma, president of the Cable Operators Federation of India, said Fastway, on the pretext of implementing digitisation made mandatory by the government, is forcing all local cable operators (LCOs) to work as slaves, putting their livelihood in danger.
In a letter written to the Punjab chief secretary on Monday, Sharma has demanded a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into all complaints against Fastway. “We do not expect any justice from the Punjab government. It is an open secret that powerful politicians are backing them,” she said.
Sharma, who was present at the seminar of the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) where Jassi took the extreme step on Saturday, said she was shocked that the police had so far failed to arrest accused Sarabjit Singh Raju, Amritsarbased official of Fastway Cables.
“Everything happened in the presence of judges of the Supreme Court and the Punjab and Haryana high court. I was also there. We are witnesses to the incident. Jassi committed suicide as he lost all his business to the powerful MSO and was completely demoralised. The least that the Punjab government can do is to compensate his family by giving his wife and son jobs,” she added.
Apart from a host of cable operators in Punjab who had to either give in to Fastway or shift to an alternative business, TV news channels which chose to report against the state’s powers that be have alleged that they, too, had to pay a heavy price for their defiance. Due to the MSO’s almost monopolistic hold on the cable network in the state, these channels were allegedly “blocked” by Fastway. “Fastway is not just controlling the cable business but also controlling the media,” Sharma pointed out.
Fastway was fined more than Rs 8 crore by the Competition Commission of India in July 2013 on a complaint by TV channel Day & Night News. The CCI, in its order, also warned these cable companies to “cease and desist” from any future monopoly. Fastway challenged the CCI’s decision before the Competition Appellate Tribunal. The tribunal set aside the CCI verdict in May 2014. Since then, the CCI itself has challenged the tribunal’s decision in the Supreme Court.