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What is Conditional Access System?

T.V. viewing is a usual phenomenon, not only in India, but in the world. As varieties of channels are now available on T.V., T.V. viewing has become a chief source of entertainment especially in middle class families. The viewers have to pay the cable operators for various channels and in a way they are dependent on them. They pay Rs. 200-300 every month to their cable operators. Even then there is a hike in price every now and then to overcome this problem-Cash or Condition access System is said to be the only solution.

Cash or Conditional Access System will enable viewers to watch pay channels after buying a set top box. The system is designed to prevent broadcasters from announcing arbitrary price hikes and allow consumers to choose what they want to watch. The working of the system can be explained in five steps- first, the broadcasters uplink their signals through satellites in a scrabbled from to prevent copyright violation. In the second step, these signals are transmitted to cable operators, who receive it through integrated receiver decoders which they control through a subscriber management system (SMS). In the third step these decoded signal is encrypted again by the cable operator for the consumer. For the free-to-air channels, the cable operator passes on the signal to the consumer-end and retains control of over the SMS and lastly, each consumer who wishes to watch a pay channel needs a set-top box to decode the signal. Each T.V. set will require its own set-top box. If the consumer wishes to add more channel to his pay-channels, he will have to inform the cable-operator accordingly.

However, CAS has different affect on different people. Pre CAS government was receiving very small returns of the service Tax and Entertainment Tax because the cable operators are declaring very low subscriber base. After the implementation of CAS, government will be able to know the exact number of subscribers and will be able to receive revenues up to 5 times more than what they are getting currently. Similar is the case with the broadcasters. But before the implementation of CAS cable operators the most beneficial, because they are not declaring the actual subscribers base and also get service charges for free-to-air channels. Viewers will be the maximum losers because they will have to purchase a set-top box costing from 3-4 thousand and monthly cable charge will also increase.

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There are many advantages also. Besides regularizing the cable rent, the set-top box can now act as people meter to record viewer ship of channel and prevent under-declaration. Also once broadband is available, a large number of options will be open from home shopping to video-conferencing etc. Also it will eliminate the trip to the video store and allow the viewer to use his T.V. to demand select programming.

In 2000 the CAS would have been implemented. However, the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on May 15, 2002. The date was fixed for June 15, 2003, but soon it was postponed and the deadline was July 14. Soon July 14 also passed without any implementation of CAS. It was said that it is because of Star TV (a pay channel) which has the most to lose if CAS is implemented. The four metros, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have a total of about 2,000 people metros which are randomly distributed among the 6.4 million cable homes. If even half of them don’t opt for the set-top boxes, the television audience measurement ratings will decrease. Star TV, which makes an almost clean sweep of the top 50 programme ratings, will suffer not only in advertising revenue but also in pay subscription Zee TV (another pay channel) comes second.

In long term, star TV wants Direct-To-Home (DTH) technology, not CAS. According to them DTH will prove more useful. It is the answer to a more competitive environment where the cable operators would not able get away by declaring only 10 percent of their subscriber base.

Now the deadline for the CAS implementation has been set for the 1st September, 2003 in all metropolitan cities- Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, Let’s hope this time it will be implemented.

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