The Shekel Drops / Horrors! 4,000 Jobs Will Be Lost!

Herzl Ozer, the top banana at the HOT cable TV company, knows his Knesset members. He knows that what frightens them most is layoffs. That's why he told the Knesset Economics Committee the other day that if they dare to vote in favor of reforming the cable television sector, "4,000 people will be fired." Horrors!

The goal of the reform is to benefit TV viewers. The Finance Ministry wants to force HOT and the Yes satellite television broadcast company to offer low-cost, narrow packages, not only their costly "basic package" with dozens of channels.

But wonders! Our parliamentarians, who are supposed to save the public groaning under the burden of the inflated price of the basic package, are taking the sides of the tycoons.

MK Yitzhak Vaknin wails that enforcing the narrow package will be disastrous for HOT and Yes. Yulia Shamalov says she doesn't understand why the Finance Ministry is getting involved in the first place. One has to wonder which lobbyist got to them.

The basic package that HOT and Yes sell is among the most expensive in the world. Consumers pay NIS 200 a month for 70 channels, most of which they never watch. The minimal cable package in the United States costs about NIS 130, in Belgium NIS 140, and in Ireland and Holland, NIS 150. In Britain it costs NIS 30.

Yes, HOT and Yes should be forced to offer packages of just 10 to 15 channels for NIS 90 a month, and because there is no real competition, obviously the state has to intervene.

For years the budgets department at the Finance Ministry has been trying to force HOT and Yes to supply low-cost packages. One gambit was to force the adoption of digital signal converters, through which people can access five public channels. It didn't do the trick. Now they have to be forced directly.

The ministry made a mistake by offering the companies compensation in the form of allowing them to sell advertising, because then we'd be paying for their service twofold: through our subscriptions fees and by being forced to watch ads.

Therefore, the members of the Economics Committee shouldn't take fright at Ozer's threats. Nobody's going to get fired, and HOT will survive if it and Yes have to offer low-cost options. But the Knesset members have to stand strong against the companies' clout.