India eyes easing of investment regs


NEW DELHI -- The Indian government is planning to set up an independent broadcast regulator and loosen limits on foreign investment in broadcasting infrastructure services in a bid to promote the conversion to digital broadcast.

On Wednesday, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, minister of information and broadcasting, told India's parliament that the government has been consulting stakeholders on a bill to make such moves.

The proposed bill would provide for the establishment of the Broadcasting Services Regulatory Authority, a body comparable to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

In the absence of a broadcast regulator, TRAI has overseen some broadcasting issues including digital distribution and channel pricing and has offered recommendations about issues such as foreign investment.

The proposed bill is the latest development in a long debate over broadcast and content regulations here (HR 10/17/07).

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, I&B secretary Asha Swarup said at an industry gathering in New Delhi that the government will allow foreign investment of up to 74% in broadcasting infrastructure services, a major jump from the previous cap of 49%.

This will encompass such services as the Headend-In-the-Sky (HITS) digital cable systems. HITS systems combine cable stations into multiplex signals on just a few satellites and replace the more complex traditional cable head-end operations.

"Broadly speaking, our aim should be to phase out analog transmission by 2017," Swarup said at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasters Association of Asia India Satellite Forum.

HITS is seen as a possible boost to the Indian cable industry's efforts to convert to digital and compete with direct-to-home services launched recently by such players as Tata Sky, the News Corp. joint venture with the Mumbai-based Tata industrial conglomerate.

Swarup added that a detailed policy announcement on foreign investment in broadcasting services, which also include DTH, teleports and satellite radio, will be made in mid-April, pending cabinet approval.

The lifting of the 49% cap on foreign investment would bring the broadcast services industry up to par with the telecom industry, which is what TRAI previously recommended to the government on the basis that digital convergence is attracting telecom players to broadcasting.

However, Swarup said that from a "national security perspective," the government has rejected TRAI's recommendation of also allowing uplinking from foreign countries.