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TRAI keen on satellite radio service

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 29, 2004 17:12 IST
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Envisaging to further expand the scope of radio, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Wednesday invited suggestions on issues relating to satellite radio service to chalk out a policy framework for the new technology which, among other things, can be used as a disaster warning system, particularly useful in a vast country like India.

The regulator, which would accept comments on the nascent technology till January 31 next year, plans to tackle various issues associated with the technology such as level-playing field between satellite radio service and private FM radio, regulation of broadcast content, licence fee and receiver interoperability requirement in case of many satellite radio service providers.

Currently, world over there are four satellite digital radio systems in operation. These are World Space, XM Radio, Sirius Radio and MBCo.

WorldSpace, which covers the entire African zone, Southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia with its existing operational two-satellite system, is the only service provider in India in this segment, providing about 40 radio channels to an estimated small fraction of 50,000 people. Of this, 31,800 are subscription-based while the rest receive only free-to-air channels.

TRAI said satellite radio, which is also being used for video and data broadcasting by players like MBCo venture of Japan & Korea, can also be useful as a disaster warning system, especially for India.

India, with its large geographical size, is well placed to benefit from a satellite radio system unlike smaller countries. The large size of the country makes it very difficult to provide timely advance warning to people living in remote areas for dealing with natural disasters such as cyclones and floods.

WorldSpace is already in touch with the Indian government regarding a project for fishermen that would, inter alia, bring them reliable and timely advance weather warnings.

The regulator said even after 80 years since broadcasting first started in India, the entire country could not be covered fully by medium wave and frequency modulation broadcasts.

"In terms of reach, combined AM and FM broadcasts cover about 99.13 per cent of the Indian population and about 91.37 per cent of the geographical area, while FM broadcasts alone cover about 30 per cent of the population and 21 per cent of the geographical area," TRAI said. 

Satellite radio has the potential to reach 100 per cent of the Indian population (geographically) and so could help to achieve some objectives of India's development process by reaching out to remote, inaccessible areas.

On the commercial viability for the players who dared to enter the capital intensive segment, TRAI said it appeared to be "much brighter".

"With 25 Indian languages in use across the country, satellite radio, which has the potential to go up to about 100 channels, would provide the opportunity of language-niche programming which would be of great benefit to citizens living away from their home language area, and help to further integrate communities across dispersed geographies," it said.

The country had already put in much effort over many years to ensure that the spectrum allocations necessary for satellite radio were available internationally and to India, and this investment would be recouped as satellite radio systems were realised.

It sought views on regulatory issues like whether content regulation should be separated from carriage regulation, whether subscription type services should be distinguished from broadcasting and also whether satellite radio in India should be regulated on the lines of private FM radio broadcasters.

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