During an open house discussion on India’s National Broadband Plan earlier today, a comment on online radio highlighted the kind of confusion that exists from a regulatory standpoint: A representative from Net4India, a hosting and domain solutions provider, said that they had tried to launch FM Channels Online (ED: probably rebroadcast local FM channels online), and had approached the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for clarification.

FM licenses in India are given according to circles / regions, according to the ministry. Net4India’s contention was that the restriction should only be on usage of radio frequency for FM signals, and not on content, but they didn’t receive a clarification from the ministry.

Content, thus, remains a grey area, and this again highlights the need for the Indian government to look at carriage and content separately. Frankly, nothing should prevent a Tamil FM channel from being broadcast on the Internet for a user in Delhi: if there is no such restriction on television, or Internet access, then why on FM?

A work-around does exist, though. As Nandan Srinath, Head of Mobility for the Times of India Group had explained to MediaNama in an interview, when Radio Mirchi had partnered with Bharti Airtel and Spice Digital for Radio Mirchi on mobile:

“It is not streaming of the same radio channel, it’s not the same feed. This is as close to live radio as you can get: it’s a combination of music, advertising, jock elements and branding that a radio station does. The consumer is consuming two rights: he’s consuming the rights to music from the technology partner and telecom operator (Spice Digital and Airtel). He’s also consuming the content from Radio Mirchi where it owns the licenses for its own content: the branding and jock-talk. Our job is limited to providing the expertise and playlists, essentially everything that is non-music. The jock-talk is very very similar, but not exactly the same, and the consumer won’t know the difference unless he’s listening to the content simultaneously.”

In our opinion, the work-around shouldn’t be necessary. The cost of content creation is rather high for businesses such as these, so if they have licenses for multiple regions, they should have the freedom to rebroadcast their content in any medium.

What’s your take on this? Do share your comments below, or detailed comments as a guest post.