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Consumers, government to gain from cable TV upgrades, says advocacy bodynews
23 March 2007

Mumbai: Economic gains from a new approach to investment in cable TV infrastructure could deliver a Rs54.6 billion ($1.2 billion) increase in economic activity and R18 billion in new tax revenues within five years, according to the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA).

However, even with a target of 20 million cable broadband subscribers by 2010, the India market would remain less than half the size of the China market which, like India, is experiencing national economic growth of more than 9 per cent per year.

CASBAA is an industry advocacy group for the promotion of multi-channel TV via cable, satellite, broadband and wireless video networks across the Asia-Pacific. It represents around 120 Asia-based corporations, which in turn provided more than three billion people.

"To achieve this goal we will need a new approach to capital investment in pay-TV, including abandoning the view that cable should be treated as a utility with commodity-like price controls" Anjan Mitra, executive director (India), CASBAA, said at an executive briefing in Mumbai today. "Today, the approach is more in line with the old-style thinking on electricity services or traditional political battlefields like print media," Mitra added.

During the briefing, the industry organisation called on the government of India to learn the lessons from the liberalisation of the telecom sector and to let consumers decide what they want to pay for and what they want to watch. This would enable digital networks to build the infrastructure and customers would come automatically.

"The fact is that if we don't change our entire attitude to cable, we could suffer nothing less than a 'digital failure'. However, if policymakers get the environment right, there will be huge rewards for the economy, first in the big cities, but then rolling out to the still needy rural areas," Mitra said.

According to CASBAA, India's cable TV networks are a huge national asset built through private investments for over a decade. "We should recognise this important fact and use those networks to create significant new economic activity," says Mitra.

With around 70 million wired homes, cable TV already plays a bigger role in India than in any other major market.

John Medeiros, VP for regulatory affairs and government relations, CASBAA, "digital broadband is changing the face of the economically crucial global communications sector and India will benefit hugely if it joins that revolution."

Medeiros noted that global experience showed that while the adoption of digital TV may start slowly, the pace of change picks up quickly.

"The very nature of (digital) cable broadband provides consumers with more content choice and more price options; on-demand services become pervasive, allowing people to choose exactly what they want to watch and when, as well as yet more choice in terms of linear (traditional) TV channels."

According to Mitra, the greatest opportunities for growth will only come when the investment climate is right for consolidation of India's thousands of small cable operators in the big metros and rural areas which are then able to upgrade their last-mile networks. "Today, MSO cash flow - the bloodline of the communications business - is constrained, leaving the industry handicapped when it taps into the capital markets."

"The exciting experience of other countries - and already seen in the Indian telecoms industry - is that domestic and overseas investors are ready and able to generate the large sums necessary to deploy cable broadband - if there is a chance of reasonable returns," said Medeiros.

But most importantly, said CASBAA, "government funds are not needed to achieve these goals. What is necessary is a supportive environment."

CASBAA is a regional industry body representing 120 multi-sectoral players such as AsiaSat, Intelsat, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, IBM, CSM Sofres, Synovate, NDS, Standard Chartered Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as the likes of Turner International, Walt Disney and HBO Asia. Other CASBAA members include regionally successful pay-TV and broadband operators such as PCCW of Hong Kong, TrueVisions of Thailand, Astro of Malaysia, StarHub of Singapore and ChungHwa Telecom of Taiwan.

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Consumers, government to gain from cable TV upgrades, says advocacy body