Even as everybody is celebrating the imminent success of the Phase II FM expansion, questions are being raised about the rationality behind the frequency allocation by the government in some cities in the just-concluded second round of bidding for the Northern zone.
A city like Chandigarh, which is the fastest growing city in North India with its booming IT and BPO sector and does not yet have any private FM channels, was allotted only two frequencies, whereas lesser commercially attractive cities of Punjab like Jalandhar, Amritsar and Patiala were allotted four frequencies each.
The commercial viability of the city was further bolstered when it received the highest bid amongst the North Indian cities with a total of nine players vying for the only two stations available for bidding. Players like Radio Mid Day and Radio City, who did not bid for any Northern cities, bid just for Chandigarh only to lose.
Interestingly, Chandigarh saw the highest bidding at Rs 15 crore, whereas a metro city like Kolkata saw the highest bidding of only Rs 6.1 crore. In fact, five out of the nine bidders in Chandigarh had bid above Rs 6 crore.
So, is this only post-bid awakening with the benefit of hindsight about the potentiality of Chandigarh to put the government under scanner? Not quite. Just analyse this.
In the ‘Policy announcement for expansion of FM Radio broadcasting services through private agencies (Phase II)’ document dated July 13, 2005, posted on the I&B Ministry website, the name of Chandigarh, the UT and capital of two states of India, was surprisingly missing. When some concerned players raised the issue with the government, the Ministry hastily allotted only two frequencies without weighing the commercial potential of this North Indian city.
When contacted, some experts openly spoke about the disastrous spectrum planning by the government. “It is purely bad spectrum planning and nothing else,” said Nisha Narayanan, Media Consultant. “There is no reason why a high-potential city like Chandigarh could not have been allotted more frequencies.”
Another industry expert pointed out more fallacies in the spectrum planning, blaming the bizarre and whimsical nature of spectrum allocation by the government, but did not want to be quoted.
When queried, P S Sundaram, former Chairman and MD of BECIL, who was instrumental in the first phase of FM expansion, observed, “Technically speaking, the government can allocate as many frequencies it wishes to a particular city, there is no difficulty in doing so. But why the government has not done so in this case, only the Ministry can give a proper answer.”