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Gaurav Choudhury and Anupama Airy, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 12, 2009
The floodgates are set to open for satellite radio services in the country with the government finalising  a fresh set of policy guidelines. With satellite services, you can catch subscription-based broadcasts on everything from sports and weather to niche music channels, even on a cross-country drive, aided by compatible receiver sets.

Ten-year licences will be offered through a bidding process on a revenue-share basis, with commercial advertisements banned to protect local FM broadcasters.

Religious organizations and political parties will be barred from setting up the channels.

Private news channels are not allowed, but talk and current affairs are. News broadcasts or audio feeds of state-run All India Radio and Doordarshan will be allowed.

Uplinking of signals will be from India through locally registered firms. “No commercial advertisements would be allowed,” the guidelines, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times, noted.

“This provision should be put to rest the apprehensions of the private FM broadcasters to the extent that these services will not be competing for the limited advertisement pie.”

The move opens up the field for others to compete with WorldSpace, which beams programmes from Singapore and hosts a variety of programmes, including in regional Indian languages. WorldSpace India broadcasts on the basis of a one-off approval given in 1998.

The operators would be allowed a maximum of two minutes per hour of promotional material about the channels. Broadcast of public interest announcements for a maximum of one hour per day might be made mandatory.

Former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Pradip Baijal,  the proposed service will give a wide choice to consumers, at competitive prices.

 “The beauty of a liberalised market is that the cost settles down at a level that can be afforded,” Baijal said. “It (satellite radio) will give the subscriber more choice and I would go a step further to say that even terrestrial television should be opened up and not be limited only to Doordarshan.”

In line with direct-to-home (DTH) television services, foreign investment including portfolio and direct investment will be capped at 74 per cent.

Successful bidders will pay an annual licence fee equal to 4 per cent of their gross revenue and provide a bank guarantee of Rs. 10 crore or the annual fee, whichever is higher.

A senior official involved in the drafting of the guidelines said research has shown there is a large market for the service.

“There is a large market for this. It is for the consumers to decide whether to subscribe to the service or not,” the official said, requesting anonymity.