The government should grant the status of industry to the cable service, and give protection to all those involved in the business, says Malik Furqan Ghias
Malik Furqan Ghias is the president of the Cable Operators Association of Pakistan apart from being a cable operator himself – F&R Cable and Management Service Network. He is in this field since the inception of the cable. According to him, initially 207 licences were issued in Lahore, but now only 34 individuals or companies are working. He says:
"We perceive that the new PEMRA laws to be put in place will enhance police’s interference – obviously bringing in a lot other nuisance as well. In the long run, it can cause the closure of the ‘industry’ – though the government has not given it the status of a full-fledged industry, which is one of our primary demands. We pay Income and Sales Tax, Wapda for using its poles, and Central Excise Duty on ads. A lot of people have made investments here after selling their property and other valuables, like jewellery. It has become a huge industry now and a large number of people are earning their livelihood from this sector.
"As far as the in-house channels are concerned, no limit is mentioned in the contract; that is why the number of CD channels vary from one cable operator to the other. Yes! The copyright violations are there, but the Association is trying to stop this. We have met the Film Producers Association, but so far we have not been able to forge an agreement. The government should enact laws for the easy release of the latest movies otherwise the violations will continue because new movies are always very high in demand.
"Only a few units have advertisements and local cable operators do have a small clientele, who were the clients of neither of television nor of any other media. Under the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority – the first licence issuing authority – the cable operators were allowed to take ads. The validity of this licence is till June this year. Our negotiations with the PEMRA are in progress. Our demand is for the local advertisement, and we do not want international ads, but we will not decline any such offer. On the other hand, we do telecast public service ads, like messages from the police department, for blood donations or any religious ceremony. Recently, Wapda has reduced its rates, that is, from Rs 40 to Rs 10. In lieu of this concession, we have entered into another agreement with the Authority to relay its ads free of cost. Most of the cable operators do not get ads from the multinational companies since the PEMRA has also instructed them not to give ads.
"Every cable operator is sensitive to pornography because we believe that this is our social responsibility not to transmit any immoral material, but one can find blacksheep in every field. Even some cable operators have appointed men to stop flashy scenes of films. Remember! This is also a public demand and people, even females, call cable operators to beam out certain notorious channels. On the other hand, the Association also takes measures to stop such relays, and if anyone of us does not deter, then we cooperate with PEMRA. We are, for sure, anti-pornography.
"Movies on Demand (MoD) is a world-wide phenomenon. They all charge for this service, and the same is being practised here as well. There is nothing in this context in the PTA agreement, which we got in June 2005.
"I think competition is pretty tough among the cable operators as there are 4-5 companies operating in the same area. It also causes confrontations and about seven persons have been murdered so far. The competition is so tough that the cable operators are coming up with slogans like ‘One Rupee Per Day’. Certain areas have been declared free zones. Interestingly, in Sandah Kalan, a cable operator gave money to subscribers to use his connection. The Association looks after such matters, but we also need PEMRA’s help in this regard.
"The cable operators have to listen to a lot of nuisance and face difficulties – from bill collections to checking of signals. We have to apply tabs to detect extra connections given to adjoining houses by the subscribers on their own. In case of a few cable operators functioning in the same area, people do not give bill on one pretext or the other – using one cable, disconnecting it just before the end of a month and using the other connection.
"We also believe that the same treatment should be meted out to every cable operator and the same standardisation be applied. For instance, the licence of one of the most recognisable names was cancelled and fined for an irregularity, but that cable operator is still in business.
"Pakistan is the fastest growing cable industry. We have moved on to fibre optic from RG6 or other low quality cables within five years of the inception of the cable service. Quite a few companies, like Worldcall, NBC, Gulf Cable, are already using fibre optic.
"From a humble beginning as cable operators, we have moved on to a stage where it has become a full-fledged industry. Now we want to provide other services, like Internet, telephone (for subscribers of the same cable operator), security alarms and educational programmes."