ESPN India urged to lower rates

Regulators set deadline for direct-to-home contracts

NEW DELHI -- Indian telecommunications regulators are pushing ESPN to renegotiate its direct-to-home contracts in 15 days or risk losing its uplink and downlink licenses in India.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on Tuesday gave ESPN Software India three days to respond to a notice asking it to include Star Sports, Star Cricket and ESPN in basic DTH packages at half the rate it charges multiservice operators and local cable operators.

The notice was the latest attempt to resolve a long-standing dispute over rates between ESPN and India's leading DTH operator, Tata Sky, which has 2 million subscribers.

In June, Tata Sky -- a joint venture between News Corp. and Mumbai-based conglomerate Tata Group -- included ESPN channels as part of an "add-on package" for an extra price, but TRAI ordered Tata Sky to reinstate the channels as part of its basic service.

An ESPN India spokesperson declined comment.

India's DTH ventures also include plays by Zee TV's Dish TV, and soon-to-launch services backed by Indian telecom operator Bharti Airtel, leading electronics player Videocon, and by Big TV, a venture backed by Reliance Big Entertainment, the firm in talks to fund DreamWorks' exit from Paramount.

ESPN's joint venture with Star TV -- ESPN Star Sports -- recently bagged exclusive cable and satellite rights to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and 2012 London Olympics for 22 countries across South East Asia including India.