DTH Television: Government throws a surprise

MUMBAI: I&B Minister Pramod Mahajan has indicated that the government is quite keen to kick start direct-to-home television services in India. The go-ahead is likely to come separate from the Broadcasting Bill, which has been pending enactment for nearly two years, in the shape of an executive order or a government notification. Ditto with Cable TV regulation and rules about uplinking from Indian shores.

On the DTH front, the thinking within the I&B ministry is that state-owned broadcaster DD should be lynchpin of any proposed project. The DD-affiliation, the ministry believes, is needed to neutralise any political opposition to DTH services, as there are fears in several quarters in government that transmissions at 4800 MHz will be detrimental to national security.

DD, the ministry says, could partner any interested company, be it foreign or Indian and share revenue with it. In exchange, the partner will have to leave the subscription management and the content of the service to DD.

The second option being considered is that DTH wannabes will perforce have to use DD-leased transponders, thus yielding partial control of the service to the state-owned broadcaster. The final option being thought about in government is that DD should be the first to launch its own DTH service, thus giving it the first-starter advantage. Later, other players could be allowed.

DD's track record on the DTH front hasn‘t been good. It was to partner Malaysian DTH service provider Measat a couple of years ago but failed to come to any arrangement with the latter.

The I&B ministry proposals, however, are not likely to become a law tomorrow. The Cabinet of ministers has to approve them of them first before they can be considered for introduction as pieces of legislation, either by the Indian President or through the Houses of Parliament or as a notification by one of the government departments.

I&B minister Pramod Mahajan had in end-1998 indicated that DTH clearances would come within two-and-a-half months.

Meanwhile a local daily today carried an unconfirmed news item that Star TV, which has been one of the DTH front-runners with its ISkyB venture, is in conversation with local telecom operator Hughes Ispat for a DTH television joint venture.

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