Assam cable ops face pole problems

MUMBAI: As many as 40,000 cable operators in Assam await a final decision on the issue of monthly payment for using electric poles to lay cable wires.
It was in September that the Assam Power Distribution Company Limited (APDCL) sent out its first circular, making it mandatory for cable operators in the state to pay Rs 25 per electric pole per month, with the deadline being 7 October.

The APDCL notice stated that all cable wires should be removed from electric poles. It further said: “Those using poles (will have to) pay Rs 25 per pole per month for services and also comply with safety measures as notified by the board,” according to Greater Guwahati Cable TV Operators' Association (GGCTOA) general secretary Md Iquebal Ahmed.
Significantly, while 80 per cent of the electric poles are used by cable operators, the remaining 20 per cent are used by telecom and broadband operators as well as the Assam police. Close to 31,000 electricity poles are being used by cable operators in Guwahati alone.
Says Ahmed: “When we received the notice, even APDCL authorities were not aware of the safety guidelines that needed to be followed. Also, we were not too happy with the amount we were asked to pay. So we requested for an extension in the deadline for complying with the notice,” and added that the GGCTOA proposed holding a meeting with the APDCL chairman to present its viewpoint.
Accordingly, a meeting was held on 22 October with 12 cable operators from across Assam, the APDCL chairman and other state heads.
“Through the meeting, we communicated our concern over paying the Rs 25 per pole per month to APDCL. Considering that APDCL will earn revenue from many other service providers who are using the electric poles, we requested them to lower the rate. We also proposed licensing for cable operators, which will allow only those cable operators with proper documents to be given licenses to lay down cables on electric poles,” Ahmed reveals. 
It is learnt the Assam-based cable operators have suggested three options for payment: one - Re 1 per pole per month; two - slab system, where a cable operator will pay Rs 500 for 50 poles with an increase of Rs 300 per additional 50 poles used and three – the Meghalaya model which uses the slab system.
“The process is already in place in Meghalaya for the past six years. There was an agreement between the board and cable operators to use the pole. The agreement has been so worked out that on an average - every operator pays Rs 5-6 per pole per month. Moreover, they are also being provided electricity for Rs 50,” said Ahmed.
On APDCL’s part, a committee has been constituted to decide the rate. “Though we had fixed it at Rs 25 per pole per month, after the cable operators’ association applied for a revision in rate, we are now working on the final fee that they have to pay for using the electric pole,” expresses APDCL public relations officer Chandra Mudoi.
Asked about the criteria that are to be used to decide the final rate, Mudoi highlighted that the effort was on to "compare the electric pole fee from other states, like Meghalaya.”
But what led to the decision levying this fee on cable operators in the first place? “The cable wires strung over electric poles can cause electrical accidents. So we asked the cable operators to remove these, which they didn’t and so we asked them to pay rent. Also, other states take money from cable operators for using electric poles. And so it makes sense for us to charge them for using electric poles without any permission or even without safety measures,” elucidates Mudoi.
With the committee expected to announce the new fee in the next few weeks, Mudoi is quick to point out that: “If the operators do not agree to the new rate, we will ask them to remove the cable wires from the poles.”
Meanwhile, Ahmed says: “We have tried to explain to the committee that there are smaller operators whose area of business is smaller with lesser number of subscribers. And there are the bigger operators as well. The committee cannot have equal policies for both. Though currently we are in the status quo mode, we are using the electric poles like before and await the final decision.”
Will their pleas be heard or will Assam Power short circuit them?