Guthrie urges speedy clearance of Tata-Star DTH project

NEW DELHI: Star Group, 20 per cent partner in a KU-band DTH venture with the Tatas of India, today made a detailed presentation to the Indian government detailing some of the problem areas, including whether it's possible to review the foreign investment cap.

According to a senior government official, the Star team had a detailed discussion in the early afternoon with information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy and later in the day another round of meeting with the ministry secretary Navin Chawla.

One of the issues brought up by the Star team during its meeting with Reddy related to a delay in the I&B ministry clearing the DTH joint venture's quest for a licence. "They did request for a faster clearance (of the DTH project)," the government official admitted, when asked about the issues brought up by Star.

Though Star Group CEO Michelle Guthrie refused to make any comments to journalists on the two meetings she had with government representatives today, officials said that Star is pushing for ironing out objections/clarifications related to the proposed DTH venture.

Another point that was referred to by the Star team during its meeting with the I&B minister related to a foreign investment cap of 20 per cent in DTH ventures as per sector guidelines.

"The point whether the foreign investment cap could be increased so as to give foreign players slightly more say in DTH ventures was made by Star during the meeting with Reddy," a senior government official said, pointing out that Reddy gave them nothing more than "just a patient hearing."

The Star team included Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea, apart from others.

However, when asked whether the I&B ministry still finds the Tate-Star DTH venture licence application inadequate in some ways, the official said, "The government has no prejudice against anybody. More so, the majority partner is an established Indian business house."

"The I&B minister is understood to have conveyed to the Star Team that the DTH application would be "dealt according to the law of the land." The Tata-Star Rs. 1.6 billion (Rs. 1,600 crore) DTH television service, as per announcements, has been scheduled for a year-end launch. But various clearances have taken up lot of time even after a previous application for a DTH licence was re-worked after roping in the Tatas. The present status of the application is that it's awaiting a clearance from the I&B ministry for a letter of intent. Ministries of finance and home have already cleared the project.

In January 2004 , Tata Sons had announced the formation of a joint venture with the Star Group for launching a DTH platform in India. According to the announcement, the Tata Group would hold 80 pr cent in the JV entity, which is aiming to build India's largest digital television platform, offering a range of channels, including exclusive ones, with interactive features and services.

However, the government official denied that the controversial issue of Radio City was brought up during talks with Reddy. The present government's allies have criticized several times the Radio City venture where the licence holder is Music Broadcast Pvt Ltd, while Star provides and marketing, content and other infrastructure support.

Star's business partner-turned-rival in India, Subhash Chandra, has already launched the country's first DTH service in October last and offers a variety 50 channels at the moment for a monthly subscription of Rs 220.

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