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Apathetic turnout marks TRAI's FM radio forum in Mumbai

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MUMBAI: FM players in Mumbai failed to make a strong united presentation on the issues confronting the sector at the open forum organised by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in Mumbai on Saturday. Entertainment Network India Limited (which runs Radio Mirchi) and MBPL (which runs Radio City) had representatives who spoke about issues relevant to the sector, while the rest were not heard at all at the sparsely attended forum.

The MBPL promoted Radio City has secured partial reprieve in the matter of payment of license fees for the third year of its broadcast. On 13 May, it secured an interim order from the High Court, which requires Radio City to pay up one third of the amount payable by it within one month, and has also managed to get a stay on the encashment of its bank guarantee. This, along with Go 92.5's interim relief asking it to pay up half the amount of its dues for the two month period till June end, has provided the industry with a much needed breather.

Trai advisor Rakesh Kacker later acknowledged the low turnout, but said it was probably because the players had attended the meeting in Delhi and Chennai, where similar sessions were held earlier this week. Win 94.6 which went off air two weeks ago, too did not make its pitch at the open forum. The Trai had recommended deferment of license fees for all FM players, a recommendation that was kept in limbo by the outgoing government.

The hour long session dwelt on issues which would be relevant when the second phase of FM radio licensing is opened up in the country. Among the issues tackled were the licensing fee structure, ownership issues (whether multiple licenses can be issued to players), technical issues like co-location of transmitters and whether players be allowed to migrate from phase I to II.

The discussion, triggered mainly by entrepreneur Vickram Crishna, revolved on whether competition in the FM sector should be restricted to large players or if the market should be opened up to smaller players also, whether separate licenses be allowed for building radio stations as well as for operating channels and on the issue of frequency mapping, which has not been undertaken yet by the government.

The Trai has in its consultation paper on FM radio related licensing issues released in April approved of a revenue sharing model as well as allowing news and current affairs on private FM stations in the country. While the outgoing NDA government failed to take a definite stance on the Trai's recommendations due to the elections, the new government will have to take a call on the long pending demands of the radio sector and give it the fillip it desperately needs.

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