Ficci bats for TV industry, seeks convergence norms review

NEW DELHI: Rationalisation of FDI caps in television distribution and news and non-news content, easing of policies and regulation for uplinking of channels and framing of cross-media ownership rules are some key elements that Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) has suggested to give a fillip to the Indian TV industry.

According to a Ficci submission to the government-sponsored think-tank on economic policies, Planning Commission, for inclusion in the 11th Plan Approach Paper, the TV sector currently lacks a consistent and uniform media policy for foreign investment. Some of the inconsistencies include different investment caps in foreign direct investment (FDI) in various segments.

For instance, in television distribution (DTH) 49 per cent foreign investment is allowed with strategic FDI capped at 20 per cent. In cable, 49 per cent foreign investment is allowed, while in news content (TV and print) 26 FDI is allowed. In radio, 20 per cent foreign investment is permitted presently.

Ficci has pointed out that convergence of technologies, services and markets is the emerging paradigm around which the communication industry is centered. Advancement of technology has blurred the line between telecom, broadcasting services and networks and under such a scenario there are urgent needs to review policies governing this sector.

For example, Ficci has said, any regulation change must take into account emerging techs like IPTV, broadband and spectrum allocation for both broadcasting and telecom services.

“It should be the aim of regulation to facilitate fair competition between players, competing platforms and multiple technologies in the carriage segment letting the markets decide the technology and platforms of choice,” Ficci said in a statement, adding similar suggestions have been made by broadcast and telecom regulator too.

Ficci has noted that the content side is independent of carriage and should be largely self-regulated.

In its submission to the Planning Commission, Ficci has suggested conversion to digitalization should be mandatory with clear time frame defined for transition to digital.

Fiscal incentives such as waiver of service and entertainment tax and income tax holiday could be provided to operators for transition to a digital regime.

At the same time, Ficci has criticized price regulation for digital cable providers, plugging for its discontinuation.

Pointing out that presently India does not have a national digital policy or plan, Ficci has said existing regulatory and policy framework for the cable industry is quite inadequate in dealing with issues like digitalization, which will increase consumer choice and help in overcoming bandwidth limitations.

Interestingly, the apex chamber of commerce has said that licensing process should be made stringent to filter out non serious players through insistence on companies’ net worth, proper declaration of subscriber base and area of operation.

It has been pointed out that the government should look at establishing India as an uplinking (of satellite channels) hub by easing the existing policies/regulations for uplinking of channels and setting up teleports/hubs.

A liberal FDI regime, which allows greater control over uplinking infrastructure, could attract foreign players to India, Ficci has said, pointing out that Singapore allows 100 per cent foreign ownership of uplink infrastructure of licensee companies, apart from having a tax-friendly environment.

Surprisingly in a muted tone, Ficci has brought up the issue of cross-media ownership, which is rocking the media industry presently.

Considering no public draft has been evolved as yet relating to cross-media ownership, absence of any draft rules or an established time frame for evolution of such rules hampers long-term investment strategy of a potential foreign investor, Ficci has noted.

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