Regulators

FM radio: Trai issues consultation paper

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NEW DELHI: Broadcast and cable regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), has issued a consultation paper on the second round of opening of the FM radio sector to private players in a bid to elicit responses on issues like licensing, content and migration to revenue sharing regime.

The consultation paper, issued today, comes at a time when bureaucrats in the information and broadcasting ministry are against acceding to a Trai suggestion that FM radio operators be given sops in the form of deferring the license payment, which becomes due month-end.

I&B minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is studying the file, is still undecided on the issue and may take a semi-concessional approach saying till the time a new government is installed in Delhi the private FM radio operators need not pay the hefty license fees.

The main features of the paper are the following:
(a) Type of License- Whether there needs to be any stipulation on the type of content to be carried on each license or the choice is to be left to licensee.
(b) Service Area - Whether the license should be city-wise or based or regional/national basis.
(c) Duration of Licenses - The need for change in the present license period, if any and also the need for license renewal.
(d) Roll out obligation - Stipulating rollout obligation for the service providers to expand coverage of radio services from the present 30 percent population coverage of FM to 60 per cent by the end of the Tenth Plan
(e) Funds for rural roll out and niche programming - Examine the need for instituting a fund for improving roll out and promoting niche programs
(f) Licensing Process - Adoption of an open and transparent licensing process that should meet the policy objectives of the Government.
(g) Quantum of Entry & License Fees - How the entry fees should be set in case auction is not adopted or what should be the basis of reserve price, if auctions are held?
(h) Multiple Licenses - Whether licensees be permitted to own multiple frequencies in the same city to provide flexibility to broadcast programmes in different languages or to provide diversity of content.
(i) Programme Code : Whether there is need to have a separate Programme Code or to amend the existing AIR
Programme Code
(j) Technical Issues: Specifying maximum or minimum transmitter power and Height of the tower, specifying
reasonable coverage requirements, permission to install antenna outside the premises.
(k) Networking: Permission for networking between broadcasters in the same city, broadcast stations of the same entity in different cities, between broadcasters across the cities etc.
(l) News and Current Affairs: Decisions regarding lifting of the restriction on airing of news and current affairs
(m) Co-location - In view of the difficulties faced by licensees in co-location whether co-location be made mandatory.
(n) Penalty for non-operationalisation of license- Penalty to be imposed on the licensees for non-operationalisation.
(o) Migration: Whether licensees of Phase-I should be allowed to migrate to Phase II and if so on what conditions?

The consultation paper has been placed on TRAI's website (www.trai.gov.in) and comments of the stakeholders have been invited by 7 May, 2004.

The government had decided during the 9th Plan Period to permit private FM radio stations on a license fee basis.

The decision to open up the frequencies to private participation was taken by the Government with an aim to propagate entertainment, education and information dissemination by commercial broadcasters and make available quality programmes with a localized flavour in terms of content and relevance, amongst other reasons.

Out of 40 cities and 108 frequencies, services started in only 14 cities. A total of 37 licenses were issued out of which 24 are operational (of which two have been granted deemed operational status, pending commencement of actual broadcast).

The result of the first phase of liberalization of FM radio broadcasting in India was not very encouraging. The private players in the FM industry reported heavy losses that are likely to continue for some time. A large number of cases are pending in courts and / or for arbitration.

On 11 February, 2004, five private FM broadcasters submitted a representation requesting for deferment of the annual FM license fee till the Government takes a decision on implementation of the FM Radio Task Force recommendations. This representation was referred to TRAI for its recommendations.

Meanwhile, Trai has begun examining the various issues involved in the phase II licensing of FM Radio.

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