Sources within the radio industry have confirmed that the government is planning to hold the Phase III FM auctions in a phased manner. It has been learnt that the first lot of frequencies to go under the hammer will be 68 leftover frequencies from the Phase II auctions. These also include 42 reference city frequencies, which is important to complete the migration process as per TRAI’s suggested formula.
Though no official statement has been made by the MIB or AROI (Association of Radio Operators for India), sources close to the development say an announcement to this effect is likely to be made by Wednesday. “There is some work being done on this end (partial auctions) and the MIB and finance ministry seem to have reached an agreement,” said a person familiar with the situation. Bimal Julka, Secretary, MIB, remained unavailable for comment.
Another source claimed the concept of partial auctions has already been approved and is just waiting for I&B Minister Arun Jaitley’s signature. “This is a good decision as it means the migration process of current players will be completed before the March 31, 2015 deadline,” said one industry insider, while confirming the news. Licenses of many operators will start expiring by March 31, which has lead to no small amount of uncertainty in the industry. The government, though, had earlier assured radio operators that the migration process would be completed before the deadline and this now seems possible with these phased auctions.
The auctions of the new cities being opened up for Phase III as well as new frequencies is expected to take place over the coming months once this batch of frequencies have been auctioned, though more details will likely be available post Wednesday.
It has also been learnt that TRAI is relooking at town classification on basis of the newer 2011 population census as well as the reserve prices of the new cities available for auctions. However, information on this is still sketchy.
Earlier, the MIB had rejected TRAI’s proposal to reconsider the reserve pricing in a move widely seen as the government’s reluctance to add more complexity and, hence, time to the auction process. But if the partial auction process is adopted then the government might have more time at hand to complete the auction and a relook at reserve prices for the new cities could be feasible. Stay tuned for more details.