Community radio to get free spectrum

NEW DELHI: The Department of Telecom has been asked to issue detailed guidelines by 12 October to bring into force a decision to totally waive spectrum fee for community radio services.

Instructions to this effect have been issued by the Communications & IT Minister Kapil Sibal, following requests received from National Advisory Council, Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry, and the Community Radio Association.

Sibal said the Government‘s role is to create an enabling environment for CRS, and he wanted guidelines to ensure that the spectrum is optimally used and the channels use these airwaves only to inform and empower the common man.

It was felt that in the interest of inclusive and informed society, it is apt that Government provides the spectrum (airwaves) for CRS at zero cost. Although this may result in an opportunity cost of around Rs. 2.5 million to the Government, the cost is far outweighed by the benefit of informed, empowered and inclusive local communities and the nation.

The move to waive spectrum and royalty fee on community radio stations has come as a major relief for a sector that was just beginning to find its feet, with just 132 stations operational out of the 370 licenses issued by the Government.

Sustainability is the biggest challenge for CRS. Community radio focuses on low cost and low return pattern of operations. Donor funding is crucial for CRS. As most of the donors come from local communities, this financing option is inadequate and irregular for CRS operating in remote areas and for the marginalised sections of the society.

The move would help educational institutes, non-government organisations, small communities and gram panchayats – many of which had received licences but had not been able to commence operations in view of the high spectrum fee.

The government had earlier this year said it was planning to raise the spectrum fee for these stations from Rs 19,000 to Rs 93,000.

The Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) wing of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology had for last nine months stopped giving clearance, leading to 166 new applicants awaiting clearance.

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