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Slew of key pending policy initiative awaits new I&B minister
A slew of pending policy initiatives and important directions for the cable, radio and broadcast sector awaits the new Information and Broadcasting (I&B) minister, likely to be announced early next week. These include policy announcement for Headend-In-the-Sky (HITS), the new digital cable delivery system using satellites, third-phase expansion of private FM radio, and a decision on the annual licence fee for the private direct-to-home (DTH) industry, among others.

The I&B ministry is also expected to see a change of guard at the secretary level as the term of existing secretary comes to an end soon. “The file on HITS, FM radio and the guidelines for self-regulations to be followed by the private news broadcasters are ready for the new I&B minister to review,” said a senior I&B official.

Cable operators and large cable distribution firms are expecting the HITS policy to be announced at the earliest. HITS allows the digital distribution of cable channels across India using a DTH-type technology where C-band transponders located on satellites are used to deliver the channels on a pan-India level at one go, thereby reducing the cost of laying down physical cable wires all over the country.

“We have been waiting for the HITS policy for the last 10 months. Once the policy is announced, we will be able to apply for a licence. This will not only put the digitalisation of existing analogue cable services on a fast-track but the valuation of large cable companies will also go up as up to 74 per cent foreign investment may be allowed under the policy,” said a top executive of a Mumbai-based cable distribution firm.

The private DTH firms are also waiting a clarity on whether to pay 10 per cent of the gross annual revenue as licence fees to the government or move to a formula of paying 6 per cent of the adjusted gross annual revenue as the licence fees, as proposed earlier by the I&B ministry and also recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai).

The 250-plus private FM radio stations run by around 30-odd companies are also expecting a forward movement on the third-phase of FM radio expansion in the country. Trai, that is also the broadcast regulator, has already recommended expanding the private FM radio to a large part of the country, including private FM stations at every district level.

“Apart from announcing the auctions of frequency for the third-phase, the new I&B minister and the I&B ministry will have to help us sort out several issues affecting the growth of FM radio as a whole. This includes issue of music royalty, networking among FM stations in big cities, holding multi-city radio licences for existing players among others,” said a top executive of a leading FM radio company.

Even the multiplexes are looking at the government to mediate in the existing imbroglio between the Bollywood producers and the national-level multiplex owners over revenue-sharing and other related issues. “Had there not been general elections at this juncture, I suspect, the multiplex-Bollywood issue would have been resolved with an active intervention of the I&B minister. Now that we will have an I&B minister by next week, we hope that the ministry would intervene if it continues for much longer period,” says an executive of a multiplex chain based in Mumbai.

Also, the issue of expansion of conditional access system (CAS) in rest of the three metros and a subsequent expansion in rest of the 55-cities, as recommended by Trai, and notification of the formation of a new television audience ratings agency, among others await the new I&B minister, senior I&B officials say.

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