Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995

by Snehashish Ghosh last modified Mar 15, 2013 06:10 AM
In this module, Snehashish examines the purpose of the legislation, the persons affected by it, the administrative bodies which come under the Act, the penalties (including the consequences in case of non-compliance), appeal process and the debates surrounding the legislation.

Before the introduction of cable television in India, broadcasting was solely under the control of the State.  The Government of India was caught unprepared with the emergence of cable networks and broadcasting through satellites in the early 1990s. The Government was not able to put a check on transmission and broadcast of television through foreign satellites.

The necessity of procuring licence for operating cable networks was first mentioned by the Rajasthan High Court in the case of Shiv Cable TV System v. State of Rajasthan.[1] In this case, the district magistrate ordered a ban on cable networks as they were being operated without licence. Subsequently the order of the district magistrate was challenged in the Rajasthan High Court on the ground that the order was in violation of fundamental right to freedom trade and profession. The high court held that there was no violation of the right to freedom of trade because cable networks fall within the definition of “wireless telegraph apparatus” under the Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act and therefore it necessary to have licence to operate such network. This highlighted the need for having a framework for the regulation of cable networks in India which led to the enactment of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995.

Object of the Act

The object of the Act was to regulate the ‘haphazard mushrooming of cable television networks’. Due to the lack of licensing mechanism for cable operators; this resulted in large number of cable operators, broadcasting programmes without any regulation. The Act aimed at regulating content and operation of cable networks. This was due to the availability of signals from foreign television networks via satellite communication. The access to foreign television networks was considered to be a “cultural invasion” as these channels portrayed western culture. It also wanted to lay down the "responsibilities and obligations in respect of the quality of service both technically as well content wise, use of materials protected under the copyright law, exhibition of uncertified films, and protection of subscribers from anti-national broadcasts from sources inimical to national interests".

There were three amendments made to the Act.

The Act is divided into five chapters. The first chapter discusses the scope and extent of the Act and meaning of the terms used in the Act. The second chapter deals with "Regulation of Cable Television Network". The third chapter relates to "Seizure and Confiscation of certain Equipments". The fourth chapter focuses on "Offences and Penalties". The fifth chapter covers other miscellaneous provisions.

Regulation of Cable Television Network

The regulation of cable television network under the Act is ensured through a two step process.  In order to keep track of cable operators, it has mandate a compulsory registration for cable operators. It also lays down provisions to regulate content to be broadcasted by the cable operator.

Registration of Cable Operators

In order to regulate cable television networks, it was made mandatory for cable television network operators to be registered.[2] Procedure for registration is laid down is section 5 of the Act. Any person who is operating or desires to operate a cable network may apply for registration to the registering authority.

An application for registration of cable operator has to be made under Form 1 along with the payment of fees of Rs.50 to the head post master within whose territorial jurisdiction the office of cable operator is situated. The registration certificate which is issued by the registering authority after inspection is valid for 12 months and can be renewed.

The registering authority may also refuse the registration of a cable operator. The reason for such refusal has to be recorded in writing and communicated to the applicant.

Section 4A was inserted into the Act by the TRAI (Amendment) Act, 2002. Section 4A deals with "transmission of programmes through addressable system".  [Refer to section on “2003- Amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (Amendment Act)"].

Content Regulation

The Central Government, in public interest can put an obligation on every cable operator to transmit or retransmit a programme[3] of any pay channel through addressable system. In public interest the central government may also ‘specify one or more free-to-air channels to be included in the package of channels’ (basic service tier). The Central Government may also, in public interest specify the maximum amount which can be charged by the operator to the subscriber  for receiving the programmes transmitted in the basic service tier provided by such cable operators. The cable operators have to publicize to subscribers the subscription rates of each pay channel at regular intervals.

Sections 5 and 6 of the Act deal with advertisement code and programme code. All cable services should be in conformity with the codes. Under section 7, cable operators have to maintain a register as to the content transmitted or retransmitted. All cable operators shall compulsorily re-transmit Doordarshan channels.

Section 9 of the Act mandates ‘use of standard equipment in cable television network’. It is the duty of the cable operator to make sure that the cable television networks do not interfere with authorized telecommunication systems.

Offences and Penalties

Section 11 gives power to the authorized government authority to seize any cable operator’s equipment, if such officer has reason to believe that the cable operator is using the equipment without proper registration.

Sections 16, 17 and 18 of the Act deal with offences under the Act. They lay down punishments for any act which is in contravention with the provisions of the Act.

Section Ingredients of the Offence Penalty/ Fine
16 Anyone who is held to be in violation of the provisions of this Act

For the first offence: Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years or with fine which may extend to Rs. 1000 or with both.

For every subsequent offence: Imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years and with fine which may extend to Rs. 5000.

Section 17 deals with when an offence under this Act is committed by a company; in this case the person in charge will be liable.

The Act also gives power to the authorized officer[4] to prohibit the transmission of certain programmes in public interest under section 19 of the Act.

Under section 20 of the Act, the Central Government in public interest may prohibit the operation cable television network. The Central Government may make such an order in the interest of the (i) sovereignty and integrity of India; or (ii) security of India; or (iii) friendly relations of India with any foreign state; or (iv) public order, decency or morality.

2003- Amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (Amendment Act)

Numerous complaints were received by the Government stating that there has been unreasonable price hike in cable television by the cable operators. Moreover, the cable operator were not paying appropriate revenue by concealing there income and under-reporting their income. The cable operators defended themselves by stating that the broadcasting industry is unregulated and they are forced to increase the price for proving cable television services as the broadcasting companies can increase the charges as per their wish. In order to address these problems, the government appointed a specialized task force.

Special task force in its study noted that the consumers do not have the choice to select the premium channels they wanted to watch rather it is provided to them in a bundle irrespective of the fact they want to subscribe to such channel or not. In order to give choice to the consumer it recommended the introduction of conditional access systems (CAS). This would require the consumers to set up set-top boxes which will allow the consumers to view all the free to air channel and he can choose to watch any of the premier channels for a charge.

This recommendation of the task force was introduced through the 2003 amendment to the Act. The main objective of the Amendment Act was to address to the frequent and arbitrary increase in cable charges. This was introduced section 4A which allowed operators to transmit pay channels through an addressable system[5]apart from basic package of free-to-air channels.

There was a lot controversy with respect to implementation of the CAS. In order to explain the controversy, it is important to understand the structure of the cable market. The cable market is divided into three categories. Broadcasters, who are at the top of the pyramid, the Multi-System Operators are in the middle and the local cable operators are at the bottom of the pyramid.

The 2003 Amendment introduced to CAS was welcomed by the broadcasters and the MSOs. But the consumer and the local cable service providers were unhappy with this decision because the consumers feared that they have to pay special rates for pay channels whereas the local operators were outraged because they believed that CAS would affect their revenue. Due to the adverse reaction from the consumers and the local cable operator, the government delayed the implementation of CAS indefinitely. This finally culminated in a case[6] before the Delhi High Court.

The Delhi High Court decided that implementation of CAS cannot be delayed. Subsequently to this, the government announced in 2004 that Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will be handling the problems regarding CAS and make recommendations on the same. TRAI recommended that CAS should be denotified and it can be re-introduced later when there is adequate regulation to properly implement it.

The government on the recommendation of TRAI withdrew the implementation of CAS. However, this decision was faced with a new challenge[7]and this time the single judge bench of the Delhi High Court held that the Government does not have any ground to suspend the CAS and it has disregarded the previous decision of the Delhi High Court in Jay Polychem case. Finally, the government re-introduced CAS but after issuing rules as to its working and implementation.

[1]. AIR 1993 Raj. 1997
[2]. Section 4 of the Act: "No person shall operate a cable television network unless he is registered a cable operator under this Act..."
[3]. Section 2(g): “programme means any television broadcast and includes –
i exhibition of films, features, dramas, advertisements and serials through video cassette recorders or video cassette  player;
ii any audio or visual or audio-visual live performance or presentation and the expression “programming service” shall be construed accordingly
[4]. Section 2(a):  authorized officer means within his local limit of jurisdiction
i   a District Magistrate, or
ii  a Sub Divisional Magistrate, or
iii a Commissioner of Police, and includes any other officer notified in the Official Gazette, by the Central Government or the State Government, to an authorized officer for such local limits of jurisdiction as may be determined by the Government.
[5]. Section 4-A, Explanation (a), Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995; Addressable system is defined as, "an electronic device or more than one electronic devices put in an integrated system through which signals of a cable television network can be sent in encrypted or unencrypted form, which can be decoded by the device or devices at the premises of the subscriber within the limits of authorisation made, on the choice and request of such subscriber, by the cable operator to the subscriber."
[6]. Jay Polychem v. Union of India, (2004) IV AD 249 (Del)
[7]. Hathaway Cable Datacom v. Union of India, 128 (2006) DLT 180

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