The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has said that an auction process for grant of permission for uplinking and downlinking TV channels is not feasible and that the existing system for grant of such permissions should be continued. Uplinking and downlinking permissions are mandatory for a broadcasting company to run a TV channel in the country.
Not in favour of auctioning
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is not in favour of auctioning TV channels, in what must come as relief to private broadcasters. In a set of recommendations on uplinking and downlinking of TV channels released recently, TRAI has said the existing administrative system for grant of permissions for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels should be continued as the auction process for grant of permissions for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels is not feasible. Broadcasters had opposed the proposal put forth by the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) in August 2017, suggesting auctioning of TV channel as is done in the case of FM Radio.
Last year the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had asked TRAI to review these five-year-old norms and had also asked its opinion on a proposal of auctioning TV channel licences similar to FM radio frequencies to increase revenues of the government.
In its recommendations, TRAI said that an auction of a public resources like space spectrum which is required for uplinking and downlinking of signals of TV channels, is feasible only if there is more than one bidder for the same spectrum. “This is not the case for satellite TV broadcasting as space spectrum used for uplinking and downlinking of signals of TV channels is coupled with the corresponding satellite transponder, already leased by the applicant company or its teleport service provider independently, prior to submitting application to the I& B Ministry seeking permission for uplinking of TV channels,” it added.
Annual licensing fee
TRAI’s recommendations are its response to a note from MIB to it, on the need for revisions and amendments to the present uplinking and downlinking guidelines in effect since December 2011. While it has agreed to enhance the annual licensing fee, the TRAI has said there will be no changes in the permission and entry fee for uplinking and downlinking of channels.
Earlier, the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) had written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) seeing revision of some of the policies of MIB, including the levy of processing fee for temporary uplink of live events and the need for security clearances to start new channels. IBF had complained that delays in permissions to start new channels , and the end of the auctioning of free slots to private broadcasters on the DD FreeDish go against the very spirit of the ‘ease of doing business.’
The fresh set of recommendations from TRAI also said there will be no change in the existing definitions of ‘News and Current Affairs TV channels’, and ‘Non-News and Current Affairs TV channels’ and in the amount of minimum net-worth of an applicant company seeking permissions for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels.
TRAI also reiterated the need to streamline the existing process of granting permissions for uplinking and downlinking of TV channels for encouraging ease of doing business. It has recommended enhancing annual licence fee for uplinking and downlinking permissions.
“The annual permission fee for uplinking of TV channel from India should be increased from ₹2 lakh to ₹3 lakh. The annual permission fee for downlinking of TV channel, uplinked from India should be increased from ₹5 lakh to ₹7.5 lakh; and the annual permission fee for downlinking of a TV channel, uplinked from foreign soil, should be increased from ₹15 lakh to ₹22.5 lakh,” it has recommended.
Meanwhile, it has also recommended that rules such as net worth conditions of prospective applicant company, entry fee and the existing definition of news and current affair TV channels and non-news TV channels should be kept unchanged.
It has also said that while transfer of permission between two broadcasting companies should not be permitted, in the case of a merger and acquisition it should be permitted after following due process. It said that a lock-in period of one year from operationalization of a TV channel should be set before such a transfer. “Transfer of permission of TV channels to its subsidiary or holding company or a subsidiary of the holding company should be allowed freely, provided such company has a valid up linking and downlinking permission.” it added.
It said that the process of granting permission for uplinking and downlinking norms should be streamlined in such a way that channels having permission for uplinking from India should require registration only while channels being uplinked from outside India should require both permission and registration. It has recommended that the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Space should give the clearances to applicants within 60 days. It said security clearance by MHA should be valid for ten years. “TRAI reiterated its recommendation of ‘Ease of Doing Business in broadcasting sector’ sent to the government (in February) wherein several measures have been recommended for streamlining the existing process of granting permissions for uplinking downlinking of TV channels,” a statement added.
According to Ashish Pherwani, partner at consultancy firm, the TRAI recommendations encourage growth in the broadcast sector. “From a Make-in-India perspective, the more businesses are permitted to operate on competitive market terms, the better for the growth of broadcasting industry,” he added. Leading broadcaster Star India Pvt Ltd said it was enthused by the TRAI recommendations. “Broadly, moves to simplify and provide certainty for the entire licensing process while rejecting a baseless push towards an AGR (Adjusted Gross Revenue)-linked license fees are recommendations that should add to the ease of doing business in the sector if implemented,” said a spokesperson of the broadcaster in an emailed response.