The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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DTH signal for box sceptics

New Delhi, June 23: The Union information and broadcasting ministry is looking to open up new modes — “technology platforms” — for beaming television signals after the Conditional Access System rolls out on July 14.

In a signal to broadcasters that the ministry will make room for greater private sector investment, a ministry source today said the government was looking to make Direct to Home (DTH) television easier and invite private participation in Microwave Multi Point Distribution System (MMDS), a technology platform that combines terrestrial relay with a wireless distribution of satellite signals.

The sources said the government was waiting for the stake holders in the cable television industry — broadcasters and operators — to sort out the nitty gritty of subscription rates that will allow CAS to roll out. The sources did not say that the opening up of parallel television viewing platforms was contingent on a smooth rollout of set-top boxes but it is known that STAR has been pushing for DTH.

The sources also said the rules under which CAS was being implemented would not allow for exceptions on crucial matters such as “bundling” of channels. Announcing a tariff of Rs 128 for pay channels under CAS on Saturday, Siticable’s Jawahar Goel had said he was requesting the government for a waiver on the bundling clause. The sources said no exception could be made.

The sources said among the applications pending for investment in DTH, Space Television — a Star-backed venture — had neither made a deposit of Rs 10 crore for the letter of intent nor had it furnished a bank guarantee of Rs 40 crore. Zee has paid Rs 10 crore for a letter of intent in DTH investment. Doordarshan’s DTH platform for free-to-air channels was also on course.

The sources said the government was considering allowing private players to distribute television signals under MMDS.

MMDS is used to transmit cable and satellite channels in rural America. It would require the viewer to buy an antenna for about Rs 1,500.

STAR deadline

Vexed by a STAR News application for permission to uplink after a nominal change in its ownership, the I & B ministry is considering if the broadcaster can be allowed to transmit news on its channel after this week.

STAR News said last week that it had floated a new company — Media Content and Communication — to uplink signals for the 24-hour news channel.

The government had given foreign-owned news channels 90 days to bring down FDI to 26 per cent and ensure that the controlling stake was in Indian hands. The deadline is June 26.

The application has to be processed by the ministries of defence, telecommunications and home. In the meantime, the deadline will run out.

I & B ministry sources said today that Media Content and Communication had sought permission to uplink with less than a week remaining for the deadline to run out. The company has told the government that STAR’s stake in the firm was now 26 per cent and other equity holdings have been picked up by Kumaramangalam Birla and Hemendra Kothari, Vir Sanghvi, Maya Alagh, Rian Karanjiwala, Suhel Seth and Jeetendra. The new company has an authorised equity of Rs 5 crore but the paid-up capital was Rs 1 lakh.

The sources said the application has to be processed by the ministries of defence, telecommunications and home affairs before it is approved. In the meantime, the deadline will run out. Failure to approve, will mean that STAR News will have to uplink India-focussed news by despatching its video cassettes to other countries from where the signals can be beamed to satellites. For a news channel that will mean loss of precious time.

Star has also informed the ministry that it has reconstituted the board of directors for STAR News with Indians. Among the directors are Kaushal Dalal (from STAR), Suhel Seth (of Equus advertising), Gopi Kumar Tulsyan (representing Birla), Shanti Ram (representing Kothari) and Sanjay Pugalia (news director for STAR).

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