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ISRO stresses on indigenization; TRAI for Open Sky policy

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NEW DELHI: Even as he advocated an Open Sky Policy for satellites usage, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman R S Sharma said an early formulation of a satellite communication (satcom) policy was desirable if the goals of Digital India have to be achieved.

On the other hand, Indian Space & Research Organisation (ISRO) agreed satellite services were crucial to the success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of Digital India, but laid stress on indigenisation to become “self-reliant” over the next few years.

Speaking at the '2nd International Summit ‘India Satcom – 2016’ on the theme of Broadband for all using NextGen Satellite Technologies, TRAI’s Sharma said connectivity was vital for a digital India and satellite can help in increase this connectivity.

That was why, he said, TRAI is in favour of an Open Sky policy and had earlier too recommended on these lines in a report to the government.

Sharma admitted that the internet connectivity in India was barely 15 per cent, though wireless connectivity was growing at a fast pace through smart-phones. There were only 20 million phones in the country but almost the entire country was connected through mobile phones, he said.

Suggesting use of cable and digital television systems to enable delivery of broadband, the TRAI chairman admitted that certain “policy constraints have to be crossed.”

He said if this is not done soon, then Digital India will not move forward much.

Referring to Ka Band on satellites, Sharma said TRAI had issued a paper in this connection in April last year.  

While Sharma pushed for a more liberalised satcom policy to realise the dream of Digital India faster, ISRO stressed on indigenisation for self-reliance without directly dwelling on an Open Sky policy.

In a message read out in absentia, ISRO chairman and secretary in the Department of Space A S Kiran Kumar said there was need to hold full-fledged discussions on satellite services’ contribution to Digital India and also on formulation of a satcom policy.

He stressed that ISRO was committed to an indigenous satellite system and added more (Indian) satellites were expected to be launched over the next few years to make the country self-dependent.

ISRO has been criticised in the past on stifling the growth of Indian users of satellite services (like DTH and VSAT operators to name a few) owing to its inability to meet the demand with supply on INSAT, while mandating time-consuming processes for Indian customers to lease capacity on foreign satellites.

Hong Kong-based Asian industry organisation CASBAA in a recent report had highlighted how stifling satellite policies were hampering a faster rollout of a digital India.

Titled Capacity crunch continues: Assessment of satellite transponders’ capacity for the Indian broadcast and broadband market and released in March 2016, the CASBAA-PwC report had questioned the role of ISRO and Antrix (ISRO’s commercial arm) as a satellite operator, a research institute and an independent commercial entity.

“The roles of a policymaker and enforcer should be assigned to independent entities,” The CASBAA-PwC report stated, indicating ISRO/Antrix present roles lead to conflict of interests.

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