Indian cable conflict hits viewers at home

Bill would make pay TV accessible for lower income subs

NEW DELHI — Cable providers blacked out 50 million homes in India on Wednesday in a one-day strike to protest delays in a key law change.

In New Delhi, about 800 operators held a demonstration near Parliament to pressure the government to pass the Cable Amendment Bill, which will give access to pay TV channels through a set-top box. Bill, passed by the lower house, is awaiting the nod of the upper house.

The conditional access system, which the bill seeks to put in place, separates pay channels from free-to-air ones so that subscribers can choose a cheaper bouquet rather be forced to pay a blanket rate for an entire service.

Currently, subs are charged around 300 rupees ($6) per month for cable services comprising all 114 channels. Around 70 channels are free-to-air.

Cable for the poor

Operators argue that the change will allow 90% of subscribers who fall into the lower- and middle-income groups to be charged at an average rate of $2 per month — making cable available to millions of extra consumers.

The cablers’ criticism also reached into the Indian Parliament on Wednesday, with opposition lawmakers denouncing cable ops who had threatened to cut off services permanently to legislators opposed to the bill.

Broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj met cable operators in New Delhi on Wednesday in a bid to resolve the dispute, but no details of the talks were available.

The cablers have warned of more blackouts if the legislative process is not hastened — and with cricket crazy India readying itself for a match against England which will be widely watched on cable — the threat will infuriate auds.

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