WHO SHOULD REGULATE DTH?
Until a couple of months ago,
direct to home television was taboo. However, Pramod Mahajan's
appointment as information and broadcasting minister changed
all that. These days, despite protestations from some quarters,
it no longer is a bad word and the government is even thinking
of throwing it open. There's only one player, which is ready
to launch - Star TV's ISkyB - though others are just raring
to get going. Among those who have an eye on this segment
include: Lalit Modi, C. Sivasankaran, the Hinduja-run InduSind
Media, and possibly Subhash Chandra.
Should it give DTH the go-ahead?
Yes, from a technology and consumer viewpoint.
Even though it may end up as an elitist or upper class entertainment
option initially, the Indian consumer deserves a choice.
Either to make it a roaring or middling success or a pitiable
failure. Technologically, direct to home Ku-band broadcasting
and a move to digital transmissions is the current wave
worldwide. Let all Indians have access to the latest technology
in television. So what if millions of them don't have access
to water or food or electricity.
DTH should not be green-signaled
from a regulatory viewpoint. The Broadcasting Authority
of India, or whatever the government chooses to call the
broadcasting regulator, has yet to be set up. Almost every
country has had some sort of regulatory framework built
before allowing DTH. The BAI is the body, which is likely
to draw up DTH television broadcasting standards in terms
of technical specs, the process of licensing or auctioning,
and advertising and programming guidelines.
With no authority in place in 1997, the government chose
to use the department of telecommunications to issue a ban
on sale of Ku-band equipment and on transmission in Ku-band.
The situation is no different now. And yet the government
is trying to open the tap. The key issue is: who then will
regulate, police and penalise errant DTH service providers?
The government is seeking to make DD the regulator on the
programming front. And DoT on the frequency spectrum front.
Not a very healthy scenario. For DD is also a player in
the DTH business as it is a content provider in terms of
television channels. The government is adding further to
the mess by thinking of forcing a DTH service provider to
share revenues with DD.
The BJP-led government should realise that the arrangement
of having DD as a regulator and a player will work only
in the short term. And as long as there is only one player
in the business. The other players, which follow with, their
own DTH platforms will definitely complain of favouritism
by the government to DD's partner if the latter continues
to be both a regulator and a player. A similar situation
is there in the department of telecom, with the DoT being
both a player and regulator. Hence, it is essential that
the government draw up a timeframe within which they will
carve out a regulator from within DD. Whether that will
be the BAI or another body will depends on whether the government
feels a need to set up a separate regulator and a referee.
in a local newspaper in January, 1999