Thirteen years after the SatCom Policy was unveiled, the Indian Space Research Organisation has revisited it and is said to be tweaking the guidelines related to allocation and pricing of satellite transponders for public and non-government users, it is reliably learnt.
The exercise is in the last lap of being finalised and presented for government approval. When it is done, ISRO will be able to apportion to different users by percentages and charge for capacity on its Insat/GSAT satellites in a much more rational way than now, a highly placed official involved in the policy exercise told The Hindu.
A re-look at the allocation norms has been increasingly felt in recent years as ISRO’s user groups have far outgrown the largely government base that existed at the time of making the Satellite Communication Policy of 2000.
“When the demand is more than supply, how do you decide between strategic, commercial, public and private sectors? You have to allocate a certain percentage to different users. Two, you cannot have the same price for all,” the official said. “Once this mechanism to do it is there, it will be known to everybody.”
ISRO Chairman and Secretary, Department of Space, K. Radhakrishnan, confirmed the exercise but said he could not say more at this stage.
The SatCom Policy threw open the Insat capacity to non-government users and allowed lease of capacity on foreign satellites where needed.
Today the users are several times diverse and demanding. The biggest chunk is taken up for broadcasting and telecommunication: Doordarshan and All India Radio under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, private TV channels and commercial direct-to-home (DTH) operators; the Department of Telecommunications and BSNL for telephone services. There are over a lakh VSATs (very small aperture terminals) that enable Internet broadband services of large public and private organisations and drive ATMs and stock exchanges. India Meteorological Department and social sectors such as distance education, telemedicine and disaster management also ride their services on Insat/GSATs.
Of late, the needs of the Ministry of Defence, the Armed Forces and its various agencies have also taken on new dimensions and are calling for bigger, serious and exclusive allocations.
Private lease of transponders on national satellites is also a main revenue source of ISRO’s commercial arm, Antrix Corporation.
The guidelines are being revised after consulting ISRO’s stakeholder departments and the multi-ministry ICC (Insat Coordination Committee) chaired by DoS Secretary.
Conventionally, the ICC allocates satellite transponders to user groups depending on their availability and urgency of use.
After the Devas-Antrix S-band controversy broke out, the government recast the ICC with 11 members in mid-2011. The committee includes Secretaries of the departments of I&B, Telecom, IT, Science & Technology, Economic Affairs, Defence, Planning Commission, besides a representative of the Telecom Regulatory Authority. In the last four to five years, the space agency has been stunned by galloping demand from commercial DTH, high-definition (HD) TV broadcasters and VSAT operators — a fact that recent ISRO chiefs have often admitted.
As a result of an unforeseen market growth combined with its own launch failures in 2010, ISRO leases 95 of the 263 transponders used by domestic operators. Broadcasters castigate it for not meeting their demand.
Five of the seven DTH users are on foreign satellites. Tata Sky, the sixth and lone private operator which leases Insat-4A, recently voiced its frustration and said it was preparing a law suit against ISRO.
The new allocation norms are expected to settle or smoothen some of their issues.