Regulators

DTH ops plea: Exclude content cost from AGR

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MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), last week, came out with the much needed recommendation paper on new DTH licences. The issue had come into light when India’s oldest DTH operator Dish TV was nearing the end of its 10 year licence that was given to it when it started operating.

While the need for fresh and transparent rules came up, TRAI issued a consultation paper in October 2013 and it was just last week that it came up with its recommendation paper on the same. What most DTH operators were glad about was the reduction in the annual licence fee from 10 per cent of gross revenue (GR) to 8 per cent of adjusted gross revenue (AGR). This would mean that the DTH industry in all will save around Rs 200 crore to Rs 300 crore.

The AGR is calculated after deducting service tax, sales tax and entertainment tax from the GR. TRAI states that since there has been growing convergence of telecom and broadcast, the 8 per cent is aligned to the unified licence (UL) in the telecom field. The recommendation paper states that in the UL, AGR is arrived at by excluding taxes and charges of ‘pass through’ nature. Even though TRAI states that there is no such charge of ‘pass through’ nature for DTH players, the latter disagrees.

“We were hoping for either a 6 per cent of AGR or 8 per cent of AGR with ‘pass through’ of content cost,” says Videocon d2h CEO Anil Khera. When a few months ago, the Ministry had sent notices to all the DTH operators to pay the licence fee dues, they had taken the issue to court. Tata Sky CEO Harit Nagpal had then said that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had itself asked the Finance Ministry to reduce the fee from 10 per cent to 6 per cent.

The paper says that two DTH operators had recommended that for calculating AGR, deduction should be made for not just service tax, sales tax and entertainment tax, but also for content costs, transponder costs, hardware sales revenue etc.

Dish TV CEO and soon to be DTH Operators Association president RC Venkateish says that the fight for exclusion of content cost isn’t over yet. He says, “We will approach the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to press for content cost to be excluded from the AGR. Like we had said, either it should be removed or else the licence fee should be brought down to 6 per cent of AGR instead of the recommended 8 per cent of AGR.”

The parliament was told in April 2013 that six private DTH operators paid Rs 307.8 crore as licence fee to the government for the year 2011-12. According to figures furnished in the reply to the Parliament, Tata Sky paid licence fee of Rs 79.3 crore in 2011-12 as against Airtel Digital’s Rs 61.87 crore and Dish TV’s Rs 30 crore. Sun Direct paid Rs 36 crore, Reliance Big TV paid Rs 9.5 crore, and Videocon d2h paid Rs 5 crore.

For now, the recommendations are pending with the Ministry for approval.

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