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HomeArticlesBroadcast BillAspects of Cable Television in the Broadcasting Bill –1997
Wednesday, 13 August 1997 00:00

Aspects of Cable Television in the Broadcasting Bill –1997

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Cable Television, an innovation In the Indian context, by hooking up of 26 million Cable TV homes, without any support, financial or moral, from the government of India, became a centre of attraction, from the taxation angle by the Indian Revenue service, by way of levy of all sorts of taxes arbitrarily. Uninformed politicians and bureaucrats view this facility only as Home Cinema’ and cause harassment of the people engaged in this occupation. Down the line, in the enforcement machinery, this industry has been acing the onslaught of corrupt officials, who are semi-literate and as uninformed as their masters.

Upto 1994, satellite reception and its cable casting/from satellites other than IMSAT, was considered illegal by the Govt.. but such systems were installed from Rashtrapati Bhawan clown to residences of Ministers and bureaucrats, at public expenses. Then in 1994, an ordinance was promulgated, which was later christened Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The earlier approach of not legalising TVRO (Television Receive Only), i.e. Dish Antenna, had suddenly nose dived when it was realised that this facility was, at the state level, the cheapest option for enhancing Doordarshan’s reach to the 950 million inhabitants. Once legalised, this facility benefited other broadcasters, Indian and foreign, who could deliver variety in the programme menu. Cable TV, as a facility, opened the window to the world, for the poor Indians, at an affordable cost. Later this service was recognized as a small scale industry by the Government, but no financial institution was willing to sanction finance for this orphan. 

The Cable Television Networks (Regulation ) Act, 1995 :-

Legalised the occupation of Cable TV operations. Removed mental barriers for investments, manufacturers, for better hardware. 

Nominated Head Post Master, of the locality in which the network was located, as the Registering Authority (A position whose occupant did not know what is involved in networking. At best, his post office mark gave credence to the piece of paper as a shield against harassment by the police, and presumably generated some data to estimate the number of networks operating in the country, if all got registered). 

Prompted recognition of Cable TV industry as a service in the frame work of small scale industry. 

Triggered the entry of MSO (Mega Service Operator), with money, muscle and mafia strengths, to intimidate the stand-alone operators, who had cultivated the information barren domain, to harvest the crop sowed by their toil, to become a franchisee so that: -

(a) Their levy on subscription was assured, without investment on the collection machinery.

(b) They were not accountable to the end viewers for delivery of a picture quality, in conformity with the Indian standards, and adherence to the system maintainability norms.

(c) Laid guidelines on programme content and advertising codes.

(d) Prompted drafting, and publication, of Cable TV standards.

(e) Listed levels of penal and enforcement agencies and appellate provisions in the administrative set-up.

Voids in The Cable TV Networks Regulation Act

(i) Neither envisaged the enforcement mechanism, nor nominated any controlling authority.

(ii)Did not clarify that Cable Television is also Television’ which in India, is deemed to be ‘Broadcast’ (A Central, NOT a State Government subject) wherein all its aspects fall under the jurisdiction of the Central Government.

(iii) Did not lay down the criterion for eligibility regarding the network ownership/ operation.

(iv) Did not spell out disqualifications for operations.

(v) Did not clarify that subsequent to the promulgation of the said Act, all matters connected with such an Act were to be dealt with under the provisions of that Act only and not under individually interpreted applicability of statutes of similar nature.

(vi) Did not restrict cross media ownership.

(vii) Did not prohibit ownership by Telcos (Telecommunication Companies) since in the usage frequency and bandwidth stratification, practised demarcation exists (with direct reflection on hands-on engineering skills).

(viii) Did not visualise the control and regulation of value added services on gradation into inter-activity.

(ix) “Did not visualise the need for skills enrichment of individuals involved in this occupation.

(x) Did not visualise the aspects of customer delight and adoption of good engineering practices.

Post Cable TV Act Promulgation Scenario

In view of the above, under the present state of governance prevailing in the country, wherein all illegal initiatives by masses get regularised, the Cable TV Operators fraternity reacted as under: -

(1) Apathy towards the Act due to lack of teeth in the penal provisions.

(2) Drift towards MSO’s expecting capital expenditure and hope of umbrella protection, against harassment by Police, Taxation Authorities, Copy Right Owners, for Indian feature films through video cassette replays over the system.

(2) Cold shoulder to technology up dates.

(3) Spurt of litigation against levy of Entertainment Tax in analogy to the Cinematograph Act.

(4) Shock at the mockery of recognition as a small scale industry.

(5) Partial resistance to incorporation of Pay Channels.

(6) Empathetical representations, through political channels, against unjustified levy of Entertainment Tax.

(7) Ad-hoc levy of subscription rates with utter disregard to picture quality being delivered.

(8)Near monopolistic attitudes since operational area adjustment did not leave any choice with subscribers.

(9)Demand in some cases to charge carriage fee.

(10)Effective wooing of politicians in the election campaigning.

At this juncture, Broadcasting Bill, 1997 has been introduced in the Parliament, with invitation for debate on the bill. In this bill, Cable TV has been grouped under ‘Local Delivery Services’. 

Time now, is, therefore, considered opportune to appreciate that: -

All broadcasting through the either mode reach to the viewer shall have to be terrestrial or through the satellite link. 

Ground distribution, to the viewer shall, by and large, be through the optical Fibre/Coaxial Cable modes or their hybrid. 

Cable TV operation, as an occupation, has come to stay as a cheap window to the world, for an average Indian, covering the entire capsule of Education, Entertainment and Information, and, therefore, cablecasts to the subscriber shall have to be engineered to overcome barriers in the growth of Cable TV Network-nig, unless the quality of delivery of picture to the subscriber compels them to seek other costlier options, such as DTH. 

Barriers in the Development of Cable TV Industry in India

Barriers to the Cable TV

Industry in India Cable

Service Industry 

Subscription Rates

Right of Passage

Engineering Practices

Copy Rights

Taxation Aspects

Advertising Reservations

Social Controls

Legal Aspects

Cable TV Service Industry

On one hand, this industry was declared a small scale industry but on the other hand, Entertainment Tax at rates as high as 30 to 80% have been laid on the operators, while no tax is levied on terrestrial or satellite cast Doordarshan movies or on stand alone viewers (So called individual Dish Antenna owners). It is not realised that Cable. TV is not ‘Home Cinema’ but FLOW (not SHOW) of information in terms of news, sport events, panel discussion on burning national and international issues, educational tutorials, cultural reviews, religious, discourses, Yoga, National Integration programmes and a window on global affairs. Right to information being a. fundamental right, cannot be made a subject of individual’s ability to pay the tax. Even under the Cinematograph Act, News reviews, Documentary films and Feature films of outstanding social values get exempted from the levy of entertainment Tax. Further, distinction exists between FTA (free to air) and TTD (through the Decoder) programmes i.e. ‘Pay Channels’. Hence if at all there is any case to levy the Entertainment Tax, it should only be confined to the Pay Channels. This industry being disunited has not been able to agitate effectively on issues of its status, rights and privileges. 

Subscription Rates

As orphans, in bitter competition, Cable TV operators went about reducing consolidated operation. This suicidal reducing of rates caused acquisition of poor quality hardware, and erection of electronic slums (the existing overhead networks) is telling upon their inability to deliver the requisite picture quality in conformity with the Indian Standards. Investment is required to upgrade the hardware but the subscriber is not willing to enhance the subscription. Further, these slums cannot house and deliver the inter-active services, which would impart delight to the viewers in terms of ‘Services at the Finger Tips’. A need, therefore, exist to spell out the tariff structure for subscription for each FTA and TTD channel. Right of Passage

The Cable route, overhead or underground, passes through property of the Municipality. Hence unless their sanctions are obtained, the erection of network amounts to trespass. Similar is the case for support of cable over the electric or telegraph poles. The procedures for obtaining such sanctions, in a realistic and user-friendly procedural domain, as a one-window convenience, were not spelt out. 

Engineering Practices

While hardware and networking specifications have been embodied in the Indian Cable Standards, good engineering practices are yet to be made public. These have so far been in the jurisdiction of the Department of Telecommunications. But Cable TV is in the domain of the Department of Electronics and hence the mismatch persists. 

Copy Rights

There is utter confusion on the copyrights of the Indian feature film cassettes between Broadcasters, self-styled copyright agents and cable casters. Many operators have adopted the path of least resistance by subscribing to one or two agents to avoid engineered raids and associated harassment. 

Taxation Aspects

An issue for examination of the categorisation of Cable TV service. Is i! a commodity, to be taxed akin to Sales Tax, or is it a service in the ambit of service tax? Income of cable operator is in any case taxed under the Income Tax provisions. 

Advertising Reservations

Subscription revenue, like the print media journalism, alone, cannot sustain Cable TV service. The income supplements have to be sourced from local advertisements. Partial screen superscription was not permitted. The advertisements, therefore, had to occupy the full TV screen either on Cable caster’s own dedicated channel or through short substitutions on other programme channels. For example, during commercial breaks of foreign popular programme channels, local advertisement could be substituted, since time and channel allocation on the network is the prerogative of the cable operator when he is not charging any carriage fee. Further, in the spirit of the Cable TV Act, as promulgated, if the cable operator was to edit the programmes and resort to the time delayed cablecasts, he would have interrupted the real time satellite casts. This goes to establish that the Cable Operator had the discretion of interrupting any programme, contrary to some cases of warnings issued by broadcasters in reported incidents in the past. It is, therefore, a matter of interpretation as to why the contents of advertisements in the commercial breaks cannot be substituted by locally generated advertisements, which would become the source of revenue, unless the broadcaster is paying the carriage fee. 

Social Controls

Cablecasts have affected the social values. Cable Operator, therefore has the social responsibility to prevent cablecast of all derogatory programming content in his programme menu. Delayed time edited cable casting needs to be adopted to restrict issues like blatant corruption and its mechanics, since the immature audience tends to emulate the styles, with an urge for indulgence, leading to degradation of values and encouragement to avoid prosecution by use of muscle, money and manipulation, consequent to such indulgence. 

Legal Aspects

Allocation of areas of operation, on the suggested lines of telecom circles, rights of passage, penalties on violation of code of conduct, appellate provisions, with time bound resolution of disputes, norms for compensation for damage to equipment, while in the custody of enforcement authorities and amplification of jurisdiction (whether Television is a Central Government subject or both centre and states have concurrent jurisdiction) need promulgation. 

 

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