Apprehensive about a shortage in spectrum and transponder capacities in the near future, the Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has sought the opinion of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on whether the present policy for uplinking and downlinking of television channels should be revisited.

This communication to TRAI – which doubles up as a regulator for the broadcast sector – comes at a time when nearly 200 fresh applications for uplinking from India are pending with the Ministry; necessitating the discussion on whether the existing policy ought to be tightened. Presently, over 420 channels uplink from India and another 70-odd networks downlink into India from overseas.

In particular, the Ministry wants to know the maximum possible number of satellite television channels which can be permitted. And, if TRAI is of the view that there should be a cap on the number of channels to be permitted in the country, then the Ministry wants the regulator to suggest how the eligibility conditions and process for granting permission to channels should be modified.

While seeking TRAI’s opinion, the Ministry has sought direction on certain specific matters. To dissuade fly-by-night operations and ensure that employees are not left high and dry by the sudden closure of channels, the Ministry wants to know if a minimum financial viability clause should be introduced. Also, should applicants be asked to make a commitment to stay in business for a minimum period of five years to avoid premature closure and prevent overcrowding of the sector.

Given the fact that people from all sorts of backgrounds are getting into the satellite television business, the Ministry has also thrown open the question on whether the applicant should have the expertise to take up content creation. And, should the experience and expertise of promoters of the applicant be placed under scrutiny; particularly given the growing incidence of the medium being used for blackmail and gaining access to the corridors of power.

Other issues on which TRAI’s views have been sought include whether there should be a provision in the guidelines to revoke permission in case a channel closes down for brief periods in a year, and if licenses should be renewed after the prescribed period of ten years.

Earlier, Union I&B Minister Ambika Soni had sought the intervention of Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in dealing with the unauthorised telecast of several religious channels like Peace TV. Though the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act empowers district administrations to deal with such violations, protests from local communities in reaction to action taken by some States have discouraged State governments from acting against operators airing these channels.

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