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TRAI to hold consultations on major broadcast issues soon
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NEW DELHI: In a signal that major policy decisions regarding the broadcasting sector are on the anvil, broadcast regulator TRAI will begin consultations on modifications in the uplinking/downlinking guidelines and foreign investment limits in the sector soon.

TRAI has invited views from stakeholders before November 2. The move comes after the I&B ministry expressed concern over the growing number of channels in the country and the lack of spectrum proposing that eligibility criteria for giving permission to channels be reviewed. In a letter written earlier this month, I&B secretary Raghu Menon had asked TRAI to revisit the present policy and consider introducing riders if necessary.

The ministry has given permission to 423 channels under uplinking guidelines of which 230 are in the news and current affairs category. In addition, about 170 fresh applications are pending approval. Admitting that improved technological changes have resulted in better utilisation of available spectrum and transponder capacities, Menon in his letter said that since spectrum is not "unlimited'' there was need to "revisit the present policy''.

"We need to revisit the present policy for uplinking and downlinking with respect to the approach towards grant of permission including the eligibility criteria and the terms and conditions of the permission,'' the letter said.

Among the issues that the ministry suggested be considered were the financial viability and experience and expertise of the promoters and if commitments should be taken from channels that they must remain in business for a period of five years.

On the issue of foreign investment, the ministry has for some time been advocating an increase in investment limits from 49% to 74% in the direct-to-home (DTH) and head-end-in-the sky (HITS) sectors. The government is, however, keen to retain the 26% FDI cap in news and current affairs channels.

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