The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recommended that the country’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting increase the limit for Foreign Direct Investment in DTH, HITS, IPTV, Mobile TV, Teleports and Multi-System Operators and even Local Cable Operators to 100%: around 49% should be allowed via the automatic route, as per the authority, and subsequent increase in stake should go via the Foreign Investment Promotion Board*. These changes, if approved by the MIB, will bring the digital distribution networks on par with Telecom.
In its recommendations, the TRAI has said that “The FDI limits and approval route for broadcast carriage services were kept the same as those for telecom services on the premise that both are infrastructural services akin to each other and there is a growing convergence between the broadcasting and telecom infrastructures” and “On the suggestion of attaching strings to the FDI investment in MSOs networks like rural coverage, the Authority is of the view that no such conditions linking such obligations to the type/nature of investment can be mandated. The stakeholders, including the MSOs, have their own business models and seek investments accordingly. Therefore, prescribing any conditions regarding the same may be detrimental to their business
interests. Moreover, prescribing any such conditions will place the MSOs in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis their competitors viz. the operators of DTH and HITS platforms.”
There are, of course, concerns regarding cross media ownership and vertical integration of channels and distribution, but that is being addressed by the TRAI in a separate consultation.
It’s important here to note that these are recommendations, and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is under no obligation to implement these changes. Indeed, in the past, it has not. It can also choose to accept some of these recommendations, and reject some.
In our opinion, carriage services like DTH, IPTV and Mobile TV should be under the Ministry of Telecommmunications: IPTV has failed to take off, and the Mobile TV policy is yet to be implemented by the government. There needs to be a clear separation between content and carriage, with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting only looking into content and the uplinking and downlinking of channels, and related areas.
On Mobile TV
It’s laughable that the TRAI has included Mobile TV as a part of this policy: maybe they forgot that the Indian government is yet to approve a Mobile TV policy for the country. Back in 2012, the then Minister for The Information and Broadcasting, Ambika Soni, had said that the Ministry could not put in place a regulatory framework for mobile TV service due to non-availability of adequate spectrum in UHF Band V (585-698 MHz), which is required for running mobile tv services. It’s quite ridiculous, actually: Doordarshan keeps making plans and wasting money on pilots and brings up Mobile TV every now and then. Nothing happens at a policy level, and technology becomes outdated.