Who should regulate DTH?


MUMBAI: 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.

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