India’s telecom regulator TRAI has recommended (pdf) allowing private players in the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) segment which currently remains exclusive to Doordarshan, the government-owned broadcasting service. A total of 7 DTT operators could be allowed in a licensed service area, while the maximum number of private players could be capped at 5 within the same area subject to availability of spectrum, TRAI added.

Since private players are allowed in other broadcasting mediums like DTH, Cable TV, IPTV and HITS, the regulator comprehends that private participation in DTT would ensure plurality in content being offered, more competition in the segment, and finally benefiting to consumers. According to TRAI, the key reasons for allowing private operators include:

-Large amount of investment is required for the migration to digital from analog. “Allowing private sector in DTT would result in inflow of private capital, speedy transition, and over growth…”

-Apart from competition, private players could transform DTT into an alternative platform for consumers. Private players offer localized content via DTH, IPTV, etc. but with DTT programming, content would be broader since signals are broadcasted nation-wide.

-Innovation in value added services, new business and monetization models since channels broadcasted via DTT can be viewed on PCs, mobile phones using a receiver. This also comes as an advantage to users who may not be able to access certain channels via other mediums.

TRAI’s role as a regulator, spectrum planning

The eligibility conditions of private DTT operators, licensing conditions and other regulations for private players would be worked out by the TRAI after the government finalizes the recommendations. TRAI will have the power to set regulations like allocation of spectrum, frequency slots for auctions, reserve prices, spectrum sharing policies among others once the DTT roll-out is approved by the government.

In addition, the quantum of available spectrum including unused spectrum eligible for DTT needs to managed and allocated to service providers in a transparent and effective manner. TRAI sought submissions from stakeholders, operators, and the general public through its consultation paper titled “Issues related to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in India” in June last year. After examining submissions and comments, the regulator issued following recommendations regarding spectrum utilization and management:

-Public sector broadcasters can operate a maximum of 3 transmitters at a given location out of which 1 transmitter must be used for mobile TV services only. Private sector broadcasters can operate a maximum of 4 transmitters at a given location subject to availability of spectrum in a service area.

-For the roll out of DTT, TRAI recommends that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) can consult with the Wireless Planning and Commission, DoT and other technical agencies to carry out frequency/spectrum planning.

-The regulator also recommended setting up of a Coordination Committee under the MIB to look into the roll out of DTT in India. The committee can facilitate and govern implementation of DTT and digitization of terrestrial broadcasting.

-In order to drive DTT adoption, TRAI recommends that the MIB along with Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology could devise a policy framework to increase availability of DTT complaint devices.

Migration from analog to digital

TRAI recommended that  DTT operations in the country should start with a complete migration from analog to digital. In the first phase, TRAI wants to migrate all analog channels to digital in metro cities by December 2019. In phase 2, cities with more than 10 lakh people will have to migrate to digital by December 2021. Phase three will involve migrating all analog broadcasting channels in the country to digital by December 2023.

The regulator wants a complete switch off of analog services in the country, since broadcasting via analog can lead to spectrum wastages and interruptions due to weather and other physical conditions. TRAI said that other broadcast platforms in the country are largely digital and, while the analog terrestrial network “continues to drain public resources (spectrum) for providing outdated analog services.” Therefore, the regulator sees complete digitization of the broadcasting sector as a kick-start for DTT segment in India.

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