The Antrix-Devas controversial deal has brought to the fore the secretive functioning of the Department of Space (DoS) and the Indian Space Research Organisation while dealing with allocation of their resources for general use. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which are responsible for the growth of telecom and DTH services, have been making unsuccessful attempts at getting the DoS and ISRO to streamline issues related to these two sectors.
While the DoT is the custodian of spectrum (radio waves) and it frames policies on satellite communications and VSAT services such as DTH, the TRAI decides the regulatory mechanism of the two sectors. But in the deal between ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, and Devas Multimedia, both the DoT and the TRAI were not kept in the loop.
“The use of satellites and transponders has undergone major changes since the boom in the mobile telephony and DTH sectors in recent years. As far as the use of space technologies for general use goes, it is no longer a secretive issue. Telecom and DTH come under our purview … we tried to discuss the matter with the DoS and ISRO officials on several occasions, but they never cooperated,” a former TRAI Chairman told The Hindu.
“The telecom sector is plagued by the scarcity of spectrum due to a tremendous boom in mobile telephony ... we have been trying to get unused spectrum from various government agencies like defence, police, Railways, and the DoS to ensure that the telecom sector gets spectrum to support growth. [But] the response from the DoS has been poor. We wanted to discuss the use of S-band to help the growth of broadband where India is lagging behind, but the DoS would either bring the Union Cabinet into the picture or talk about national security to scuttle our moves,” he said.
Significantly, the Department of Telecom opposed the ISRO-Devas deal in 2007, two years before ISRO asked for a review, while senior DoT officials have been saying ISRO had no power to allocate spectrum.
Devas Multimedia president and CEO Ramachandran Viswanathan has been claiming that as per the agreement signed by the Bangalore-based firm and Antrix, the allocation of transponders was based on the SATCOM Policy as an “open window process,” just like DTH and GSAT service providers received in the past.
But the SATCOM Policy forms part of the New Telecom Policy 1999 that comes under the DoT and is made as per recommendations of the TRAI. Similarly, licences to VSAT service providers are also given under the NTP 1999. “The SATCOM Policy shall provide for users to avail [themselves] of transponder capacity from both domestic and foreign satellites. However, the same has to be in consultation with the Department of Space … Under the existing ISP policy, international long distance communication for data has been opened up. The gateways for this purpose shall be allowed to use SATCOM,” says NTP 1999.
Pointing out that they were never informed by the DoS at the time of the signing of the deal between Antrix and Devas, the former TRAI Chairman also said that legally they should have informed both the DoT and the TRAI. “And when the use of spectrum was for general interest, the DoS and ISRO should have consulted us. We have been demanding S-band spectrum for broadband services, but now it seems that Devas wanted to get the high-value spectrum for similar services,” he added.