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Some firms say that the technical specifications for the interim set-up are restrictive. Photo: Mint
Some firms say that the technical specifications for the interim set-up are restrictive. Photo: Mint

FM radio firms get nod to set up interim transmission facilities

Operators can launch new stations without waiting for Becil to build infrastructure for common transmission

New Delhi: First the good news. The information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry has finally allowed the private FM radio companies that had won licences in the phase 3 of FM radio auctions to set up interim transmission facilities to launch their stations quickly. The bad news is that the move has received a mixed response from top executives at the firms—while some welcome it, others find the technical specifications for the interim set-up dictated by the ministry restrictive.

The ministry has posted on its website the minutes of the meeting with radio firms on 27 April, where it allowed them interim set-up for their channels. This means that the FM radio operators can launch their new stations as early as they want without waiting for Becil (Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Ltd) to build the common transmission infrastructure (CTI).

Becil is a government enterprise under the I&B ministry.

After the phase 2 auctions, the government had permitted radio firms to put up interim facilities in some cities, but no such permission was granted in phase 3.

The move comes after the ministry received requests from four FM radio operators seeking permission to start running their new FM radio channels from interim facilities. The four FM radio companies are Entertainment Network India Ltd (ENIL), which operates channels under the Radio Mirchi brand, HT Media Ltd, which runs Fever 104 stations, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd (RBNL), which operates BIG FM, and Music Broadcast Pvt. Ltd (Radio City).

According to the minutes of the meeting, Mihir Kumar Singh, joint secretary, I&B ministry, said that early operationalization of the channels will benefit all stakeholders, including the ministry, as its annual fee realization will start early.

Becil informed the ministry that although the scheduled deadline for completing the CTI for all the cities was September, it could finish work in some cities by July-August.

Predictably, the decision got mixed reactions from radio firms. Harshad Jain, CEO (Radio and Entertainment) of HT Media, said that the move was very welcome and feasible. “The technical specifications given by the government are workable in the smaller cities and if we look at the CTI facilities from a readiness perspective, they are far from being ready in July except for a few cities," he said. “HT is happy with the decision. Interim set-up is better than keeping the spectrum unutilized."

HT Media Ltd spent 340 crore and acquired 10 new frequencies in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and several towns of Uttar Pradesh in the phase 3 of FM radio auctions that concluded in September.

Abraham Thomas, CEO of Radio City, also said that it was a positive step. “The government has given the complete schedule for the permanent set-up of transmission facilities, which is very encouraging," he said.

He added that the technical specification for the range and distance were a little restrained, “but we are trying to evaluate the costs".

Radio City, now a part of Jagran Prakashan Ltd, which publishes Dainik Jagran, had won 11 licences in the auction.

ENIL, however, said that government nod to interim set-up has come a little late in the day.

“We have been asking for it since October. The ministry’s permission comes very close to the permanent set-up," said Mahesh Shetty, chief operating officer at ENIL, the radio broadcasting unit of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. ENIL won 17 new licences in phase 3 of FM radio auctions. “The benefit we can get from interim is very minimal," Shetty added.

HT Media, which has interests in radio, also publishes Mint, which competes with newspapers published by Bennett, Coleman in some markets.

The ministry also mandated that the interim operations can only be set up in the premises where the CTI is operating. It also specified the range and distance for the interim set-up. The operators have been asked to make full payments to Becil and public broadcaster Prasar Bharati and arrange their own power supply for the interim facilities.

“The government wants the interim set-up to be at CTI and it is at a far lower power and hence we will get a much reduced range. Although, we are trying to evaluate this set-up, we don’t see too much benefit in setting up interim facilities," said Shetty.

The operators have sought a week’s time to inform the ministry about their views. The next meeting is scheduled on 6 May.

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