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Hint of hope for FM broadcasters

New Delhi, April 14: The telecom regulator will review the restrictions on beaming news and current affairs programmes by FM radio broadcasters.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) recently held meetings with various stakeholders to get their feedback on the issues relating to the grant of licences to FM radio broadcasters in the second phase.

Trai today released a consultation paper that will examine whether there should be any stipulation on the type of content to be carried on each licence or whether the choice should be left to the licensee.

It also proposes to examine whether the licence should be given city-wise or on regional/national basis, the duration of the licence, rollout obligations and whether they should be allowed to expand coverage of radio services from 30 per cent population coverage to 60 per cent by the end of the Tenth Plan.

The paper will also examine whether there is a need to institute a fund to improve rollout and promote niche programmes, the licensing process, quantum of entry and licence fees.

It will also seek to determine how the entry fees should be set in case the auction route is not adopted or what should be the basis for setting the reserve price if auctions are held.

It will also examine whether multiple licences should be allowed and whether the broadcasters should be allowed to own multiple frequencies in the same city to provide flexibility to broadcast programmes in different languages or to provide diversity of content.

The paper will also examine whether there is a need to have a separate programme code or to amend the existing AIR programme code, specify maximum or minimum transmitter power, permission for networking between broadcasters in the same city, broadcast stations of the same entity in different cities, between broadcasters across the cities.

In May 2000, the government auctioned 108 frequencies in the FM spectrum across 40 cities through an open auction bidding process. A multiple round auction mechanism was followed to award these licenses.

The start-up was very slow. Out of 40 cities and 108 frequencies, services started in only 14 cities.

A total of 37 licences were issued out of which 24 are operational (of which two have been granted deemed operational status, pending commencement of actual broadcast).

“The result of the first phase of liberalisation of FM radio broadcasting in India was not very encouraging. The private players in the FM industry reported heavy losses that are likely to continue for some time. A large number of cases are pending in courts and/or for arbitration,” said a senior Trai official.

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