Cable TV existed in India since nineteen eighties in the form of a single in house video channel in some cities in the West and South. A sudden spurt in spreading of networks came with ( the invasion of Kuwait, when the gulf war was shown live through satellite by CNN in Jan. 1991. At the same time the film distributors started selling Cable TV lights of films on exclusive area basis and created a gold rush of sorts.
A broad spectrum of mostly young and adventurous entrepreneurs entered the field. Cable TV networks were erected on first come first serve basis and the area became the jurisdiction of the operator. It was a leap in the dark. Lack of know-how, poor technology level in the country and the issue of film rights became a pandora’s box for the operator specially when competition resulted. Spurious products were sold to him by new manufacturers of co-axial cable and equipment, which did not deliver the promised results and prices charged were exorbitant.
The film rights issue made things worse specially as self styled media dons made dubious claims over rights already bought by the operator from another party. Even after paying for the rights the operator remained at loss to understand the complexity of a, the problem, specially, so be-cause the raids were engineered to extract money.
Cable TV channels proliferated with the launch of Asia Sat I when Star TV opened office in India and started beaming four channels of interest to the Indian audience, Star Plus, Star Sports, BBC and MTV. And later ZEE TV was also launched on the same platform. A boost in viewership was obvious. Viewers started enjoying the programs and cable TV became a household service as or even more essential than the telephone or electricity.
But the Cable TV was still treated a! best as a clandestine operation because the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 (the only act which existed) was outdated and totally inadequate to cover such a new technology. And the on slaught from the rights mafia victimized the cable operation further.
Cable TV networks had been erected in the entire country. In an effort to regulate this massive industry the government put up a Cable Television Networks Regulation Bill 1993, which dually was enacted through an ordinance and was finally termed the Cable TV Networks Regulation Act 1995. At best the Cable TV Act 1995 “gave the operator a legal identity by registering with the area Postmaster.
“....... With 49% foreign equity, one single company could control the cable industry in the whole Country.”
Mr. N.P. Nawani
“Cable TV operators: of the people, for the people, by the people, Big Operators (financial muscles): of the few, for the few, by the few”.
Col. V.C. Khare
It further held the operator responsible for the following. (i) Adherence to the Programming and Advertising Code.
(ii) Upgrading of equipment to meet B.I.S. standards within three years of publication of these standards on cable TV which were yet to be formed.
(iii) Compulsory transmission of two D.D. Channels.
(iv) Cable TV networks not to cause any interference with telecom networks and in case of violation of the act punishments included seizure/confiscation of equipment to imprisonment for five years.
The Cable TV Networks Regulation Act 1995 failed to:
(a) Identify a department/ authority to look after Cable TV in its full perspective.
(b) Registration was to be done with the Postmaster who at best was ill-equipped to understand the technology and otherwise Cable TV remained a subject of the telecom department.
(c) Provide firm guide lines to civic/ municipal bodies to facilitate and lay guide lines for operating and laying of networks.
(d) Put an end to exploitation of cable operators by the film rights mafia.
(e) Show farsightedness in as far as further concepts of pay channels, Pay per view, Video on demand, MMDS, and DTH were concerned.
(f)To project the immense penetration power of electronic media in providing and educating the masses in matters of information, education, sports, culture, religion, business and lot more.
Broadcast bill remains silent on topics like cable & signal theft and non-paying subscribers whereas a cable operator is punishable for violating/ stealing rights of movies.
The enactment of Cable TV bill 1995 prompted entry of MSO’S (Mega System Operators) into the field. Operators capable of upgrading their systems survived and all others went under the umbrella of the MSO’s resulting in a price war, utter confusion and poor delivery. The independent operators proved an edge over the MSO’s by providing quality transmission and a personalized service. Cable TV was declared a small-scale industry but when approached the department would ask you to fill up forms as would be applicable to a foundry or a chemical factory for that matter.
Today, the Cable industry can proudly boast of a 20-30 channel transmission, better picture quality and better service specially in the case of independent operators Then why the need for a broadcasting bill? It can be visualized that the government wants to and should have a control on invasion from the skies be it aeroplane, missiles or by electronics signals capable of disseminating information, education and entrainment.
As mentioned earlier concepts like MMDS, DTH were not considered in the Cable TV networks Regulation Bill 1995 and therefore one can understand the need for a more comprehensive bill which provides, specific control over DTH which can influence the thought process of individuals exposed to it.
“......It is a tribute to the entrepreneurship skills of cable operators, who pioneered this industry; for which we are having conferences, to make regulations”
N. Vittal, Chairman PESB
SOME SUGGESTIONS ON THE BROADCAST BILL 1997
The broadcasting bill should be a subject of public debate involving all concerned parties before it is enacted. The present committees constitute of bureaucrats and politicians who are totally ignorant on the subject
The broadcasting authority should have participation of bureaucrats, media experts, technical consultants, and cable operators so as to be representative in. character.
Air waves are public property and their use needs to be regulated with the sole purpose of protecting the right to information. The bill should clarify policies on taxation which, if or when implemented, would violate the fundamental rights of the citizen.
No tax is imposed on DD channels, which serve the same purpose.
Existing operators registered under the Cable TV Regulation Act 1995 shall have to file an application with the authority within six months from the date of notification of the bill. And if not granted licence the operator will have to close shop. The discretionary provision of licensing of the individual operator is not understood and the fee hangs like a sword over the operators head.
The provision of local delivery service shall also make the provider responsible for adherence to the programming and advertising code over which he hardly has any control.
Repeal of cable TV Networks Regulation Act is a curse or a blessing shall be determined only with time.
Imposing of penalties upto Rs fifty lakhs, suspension of licence and provision of powers of DM/SDM to receive complaints and take action goes against the concept of freedom of media & right to information. The bias of the people’s government towards the individual operator is apparent.
The Broadcast Bill remains silent on topics like cable & signal theft and non paying subscribers. Whereas a cable operator is punishable for violating/ stealing rights of movies.
Licencing fee( which is bound to be high due to bidding) will require a much higher subscription to ensure viability of large networks. The market is not yet develop to adopt value added services. The common viewer will thus be deprived of a cheaper medium of information.
The concept of “ Local delivery service” circles akin to telecom circles lends no credence to the will of the government to control/ censor the free flow of information. It rather suggests the connivance of the government to hand over the most penetrating media into the hands of MNC’s directly or indirectly. The MNC’s could well be a foreign power by proxy.
The Broadcasting Bill 1997 has totally lost grip over the existing reality on ground and seems to be totally biased against the independent operator who has toiled over the years in building this industry to the present stage. The Cable TV industry provides jobs to millions directly and many more millions indirectly.
The Bill in it present form leaves no doubts in one’s own mind that it is designed not to control DTH but to hand over the local delivery services i.e. Cable TV/(V1MDS into the hands of vested interests.
The immense potential of this electronic medium needs to be assessed carefully specially when used against the very people for whose benefit it is designed.
Therefore it becomes more important to ensure complete control over it without allowing even indirect indulgence by vested interests be they foreign or local.
More so the bias created against the pioneers ( the individual operators) needs to be removed from the minds of the architects of the Broadcasting Bill 1997.