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Cable rates fixed, get cheaper; channels crib

india Updated: Sep 01, 2006 13:34 IST

REJECTING DEMANDS by broadcasters for higher rates, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Thursday fixed Rs 5 per month as MRP for pay channels in CAS areas and Rs 77 for 30 free-to-air channels. The price will be effective from January — and may, after including taxes, bring down monthly cable bills to around Rs 200. But pay channels are threatening to move court against the MRP fixed.

R.C. Venkateish, MD, ESPN Software, said: "It's an arbitrary order that may destroy a growing industry. The MRP levels fixed are absurdly low." Jawahar Goel of Zee said there was no need for such an order as CAS (Conditional Access System) had been working fine in Chennai over the past three years.   

Most channels had sought an MRP between Rs 20 and Rs 30 for a pay channel. Sports channels, like ESPN and Star Sports, had asked for Rs 40.8 per channel if subscription was for a year. Among movie channels, Star Movies had wanted Rs 14 as MRP and Zee Movies Rs 21.04.

TRAI's rationale behind the rates: the consumers should have the maximum choice and broadcasters should have a limited role, a demand of several consumer groups.

"There shouldn't be much variation between the bouquet rates offered in CAS areas and the MRP in CAS areas," said a TRAI official.

Consumers would approve -- their monthly cable bill can remain under Rs 200 if they limit themselves to watching their favorite movies, sports and fun channels -- in addition to 30 free-to-air channels.

TRAI's decision to dispense with the mandatory bouquet mode of payment for pay channels will provide flexibility to consumers in the CAS areas of south Delhi, south Mumbai, and parts of Kolkata and Chennai. CAS is to be implemented in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata from December.

Since conditional access requires that cable TV be run through a de-encryption set-top box (STB), TRAI has made it mandatory for cable networks to offer consumers set-top boxes with two rental options -- one with a monthly rental of Rs 30 and another with Rs 45.  Cable networks will be free to make variations and even sell STBs on an outright basis.

But consumers cannot be charged separately for installation and activation. The STB rentals will come into effect from October 15. TRAI has also notified a revenue-sharing model among broadcasters, multi-service providers (MSOs) and cable operators. Forty-five per cent revenue will go to the channel owner, 30 per cent to the MSO and 25 per cent to the cable operator.