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City should take lesson from Tamil Nadu

CABLE TELEVISION services were thrown into complete disarray in the State capital, in the past few days, thanks to an unseemly row between obdurate Multiple System operators (MSOs). In fact, this is not the first time that residents of the Capital are bearing the brunt of intransigent MSOs.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 00:47 IST

CABLE TELEVISION services were thrown into complete disarray in the State capital, in the past few days, thanks to an unseemly row between obdurate Multiple System operators (MSOs). In fact, this is not the first time that residents of the Capital are bearing the brunt of intransigent MSOs.

A few years ago, employees and cable operators of two other rival cable TV companies (or MSOs), namely SEE TV and Siti Cable, had snipped each others’ cables leaving hapless consumer high and dry.

Cable cutting is just the manifestation of the problem. What then are the underlying causes of this malaise? The crux of the cable television imbroglio is twofold. One is that local cable operators grossly underreport the number of subscribers so as to maximise their own revenues and in the process slice off a large chunk of revenues that legitimately belong to the MSO.

The MSO, in turn default on their dues to broadcasters or pay channels. For instance, some time ago, the Star TV and ZEE Network had together deactivated their signals to the MSO SEE TV in the capital and SEE TV had boycotted the ESPN-Star Sports package of Star network.

Two, both cable TV operators and MSOs exploit their monopolistic or duopolistic  status to the hilt. For example, there  is no uniformity in the monthly rentals charged by individual cable TV operators; the rates charged in Neelbad or Kerwa Dam are higher than those charged in Nehru Nagar.

Likewise, the market is also concentrated at the MSO level. For instance, about five years back, there were just two MSOs – SEE TV and Siti Cable in the city. Later Siti Cable was bought off by the transitory 9th Mile Operation, which in turn was acquired by OTG. Subsequently, OTG was taken over by SEE TV thereby handing over the latter’s complete monopoly over the cable business.

Even today the MSO market in the capital is duopolistic (a two player market). Clearly in such situations the consumer is the worst hit.

Cable television is a major source of information and entertainment for the burgeoning middle classes in metros, major cities and small towns and is no longer a luxury. It is time that cable television services are regulated and consumer interests are protected.

At the central level, the Cable television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act 2002 has failed to protect consumer interests. The Act sought to legislate the Conditional Access System (CAS) to enable viewers to watch and pay for channels of their choices by using set top boxes- a kind of decoder- something that has not taken off yet.

Technological alternatives such as DTH have also not caught on as the bouquet of channels offered to the viewer is quite limited.

At the State-level, the Government is pressing its ADMs and ASPs to tackle the issue- an indication of the priority that it is according to cable TV services! Even if the current impasse ends, it will not be long before another fracas breaks out, given the past experience in this matter.

The Government must get cracking and emulate the Jayalalitha Government in this regard. In January 2006, the Tamil Nadu Government enacted a law in the State to take over the MSOs and the concomitant cable operations in the State.

Of course, many felt Jayalalitha did this to takeover Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV) network – the giant MSO owned by the Maran family which incidentally also owns the most influential SUN TV channel in the State.
However, in Madhya Pradesh, no one would impute a political motive were the BJP Government to bring such a law. Even if the law were to be challenged in the Supreme Court later, the threat of nationalisation would have a salutary effect on cable TV players giving some respite to the much harried consumer.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, National Law Institute University, Bhopal)