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Update: DTH firms demand ‘Open Sky’ policy for satellite ops
Hampered by acute shortage of DTH spectrum and inability of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to service their current and future demand, the six private direct-to-home operators have batted for an ‘open sky’ policy from the government.

The operators say a relaxed satellite policy will help Indian DTH operators enter into seamless contract with foreign satellites for augmenting their DTH spectrum needs without any bureaucratic delays. The operators want government relaxation on the satellite norms within the provisions of the Satcom policy of 2000. Also, operators are wary of the track record of Isro satellites after growing instances of technical snags impacting Insat satellites have come to the fore.

The operators like Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV and others through their DTH association have told the government that with no back-up satellites in place and no commitment from Isro on capacity augmentation, any technical snag on existing satellites will lead to blackout of DTH services in the country impacting 45-million consumers.

Currently, the operators want at least 40 Ku-band transponders to service the 830-plus TV channels permitted by the government.

Sources said, some of the Insat and Gsat satellites have faced orbital anomalies which resulted in disruption of critical services forcing DTH operators to demand an open sky policy. Last year, Insat 4B at 93.5 degree East faced electrical short in the solar array drive resulting in reduction of the satellite power generation capability by 50% and payload operational capacity to half.

This failure totally disrupted Sun Direct DTH services. Sun Direct had to relocate its services to Measat satellite, the same platform as Reliance DTH services. Similarly, Insat 4A at 83 degree east is operating on reduced power impacting the services of Tata Sky. Similarly, Gsat-8 satellite (55 degree east) with 24 Ku transponders is said to have suffered an antenna thermal distortion anomaly since its launch last year. This resulted in constrained operations of all the 24 transponders.

“We are ready to pay money to foreign satellites which are available over India. But we are not getting the permission from Isro. How can we compete with cable industry which can provide 500-plus channels while we being a national players can only provide half or even less,” Harit Nagpal, CEO, Tata Sky and president of DTH association told FE recently.

Airtel Digital TV, the DTH arm of telecom major Bharti Airtel encountered problem on its Isro-made Insat 4 CR satellite last year and had to shift to a foreign satellite SES-7. The company had to incur a migration cost of around Rs 60 crore as the foreign satellite was located at a different orbital angle thereby impacting the ground position of Airtel DTH consumers.

“We are questioning the current system of processing requests for additional capacity. Till 2020, we require 24 Ku-band transponders. The new requirements should be on 108.2 degree east, the current location of our satellite, else the cost implications will be enormous. But in order to place future order with our satellite operator, we need the nod of Isro and ICC,” said Shashi Arora, CEO DTH/Media, Bharti Airtel.

In a missive shot to the information and broadcasting ministry, the broadcast regulator and the Prime Ministers Office, the DTH association said: “We urge the government to allow the service providers to contract for additional transponder capacity freely through foreign satellites until such time that Indian satellites are available to provide the services requires”.

This matter has been raised at a time when there is a growing frustration with the functioning of Insat Coordination Council (ICC) of Isro, a body comprising of around dozen Secretaries from the central government which takes a call on the spectrum-led demands raised by private DTH or VSAT operators.

“No one knows when ICC meets as there is no fixed schedule. So far, none of our problems have been addressed by ICC and their meetings end without any decisions,” said a senior executive of a leading DTH brand.

-financial Express.
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