Trai paper seeks to streamline uplinking, downlinking norms

MUMBAI: Following a prod from the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) additional secretary Jayashree Mukherjee, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on 19 December issued an industry consultation paper which seeks to update guidelines related to uplinking, downlinking, of TV channels and the setting up of teleports.

Mukherjee had sought the TRAI’s recommendations on these issues keeping in mind changes in technology, market scenarios and lessons learnt over the past six years since the guidelines were passed.  

In its paper, Trai has asked stakeholders, such as broadcasters, if there was any need to redefine news and current affairs TV channels and non-news and current affairs TV channels more specifically.

Pointing at a possible hike in the net-worth requirement of Rs 5 crore for obtaining a licence for uplinking or downlinking of TV channels, and an increase in process fees for applicants, the paper states that non-serious players were able to obtain licenses, which were either traded or leased to a different entity.

“To  ensure  that  only  serious  players,  who  are  interested  in  the business of satellite TV channels, apply for obtaining license for  uplinking  or downlinking of TV channels, one way could be to increase the entry barriers. The other way could be to eliminate the incentives, which encourage trading and/or sub-leasing of licenses. Further, sub-leasing or trading of channels can also be controlled by putting in place certain checks, which discourage such practices,” the release stated.

The paper argues that an increase in entry barriers for uplinking of TV channels from India may encourage diversion of such business opportunities to outside India. Moreover, Trai has raised the question of auctioning satellite TV channels as a complete package similar to FM radio channels. Or if industry thinks that it is possible to auction individual legs of satellite TV broadcasting – uplinking space spectrum, transponder capacity?

And it has opened up an issue which has been a sore point for the industry: if it is advisable to restrict the use of foreign satellites for satellite TV broadcasting or uplinking of satellite TV channels to be downlinked in India from foreign soil? And also whether it is possible to auction channels without restricting the use of foreign satellites and uplinking of signals of TV channels from foreign soils. The paper appeals to stakeholders if there could be a better way to grant a licence for a TV satellite channel then what is presently followed in order to simply the procedure.

Other issues the TRAI is seeking industry’s input on is whether encryption of all satellite TV signals – whether free to air or pay TV and what timeline should be given to licensed broadcasters to launch their channels from the date of issue of a licence and the penalties that should be levied on them in case they fail to restore their disrupted channels within a specified period. The consultation paper also approaches sensitive issues such as terms of  the tradeability of licences by a licencee.  

On the teleport side, the TRAI is seeking to get industry’s understanding of what a teleport should be defined as in a new digital era, the licensing norms, fee structures for processing a licence, if there is a need to restrict the number of teleports in India, and their location like say in a park.

The industry watchdog has requested that industry sends in its inputs by 18 January 2018.

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