The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on June 4, 2008 sent the final comments on the draft Satellite Radio Policy as proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Ministry has informed that TRAI’s recommendations have been accepted with some modifications by the Government. Accordingly, the Ministry has framed the draft Satellite Radio Policy guidelines.
Satellite radio service refers to distribution of single or multi channel radio programmes by using a satellite system which provides encrypted digital radio signals direct to subscribers’ receiver sets.
The draft Satellite Radio Policy guidelines forwarded by the Ministry is an exhaustive document and make a distinction between provision of satellite radio service (i.e., carriage of radio channels) and provision of content (radio channels) to such satellite radio service providers. Accordingly, two different types of license/permission are envisaged in the draft Satellite Radio Policy. One type of license is for providing the satellite radio service for carriage and broadcasting of channels, and the other permission entitles the permission holder to get registration for satellite radio channels which he will in turn provide to satellite radio service operator for broadcasting. The draft Satellite Radio Policy guidelines permit a satellite radio service provider to hold the permission for registration of satellite radio channels as well.
Some of the major issues covered in the draft policy guidelines include eligibility criteria, period of license, entry fee and annual license fee, bank guarantee, basic conditions and obligations, technical standards, monitoring, inspection, value added services, terrestrial repeaters, termination of license, WPC wing’s license, procedure for application, disputes and jurisdiction.
The views of the stakeholders were examined by TRAI and the final comments have been sent to the Ministry with some modification in a few clauses relating to eligibility, procedure of application and grant of license and migration path for existing service provider to the licensing regime. The Authority has recommended auctioning the license if the number of eligible applicants exceeds the number of licenses being offered, depending upon the availability of spectrum and satellite.
Various stakeholders have welcomed the move. Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) has welcomed TRAI’s move to seek the views of stakeholders on the Draft Satellite Radio Policy guidelines and the proposed changes in it. Ashok Narayan, Vice-President, AROI, however, said, “In its recommendation on FM Phase III policy, TRAI had suggested a limit of 26 per cent for News and Current Affairs and 49 per cent for non-news channels. TRAI revised it to 49 per cent in its recommendations on FDI in the broadcasting sector released on April 26, 2007. Now, TRAI has suggested that it be revised to 74 per cent for satellite radio only. To create a level playing field, we strongly feel it should be on par with private FM sector, that is, 49 per cent, and no special consideration whatsoever be given to satellite radio.”
WorldSpace has agreed with TRAI’s rationale for recommending the inclusion of certain news content on private FM stations, and believes the rationale is even more applicable in the case of satellite radio, which has the ability to provide dozens of niche channels to subscribers interested in a wide range of content.
WorldSpace does not produce any news or current affairs channels, but rather enters into arrangements to carry news channels that are already available to Indian consumers through other platforms, such as DTH, DRM, short-wave, cable and the Internet.