TRAI recommends government to notify policy framework for digital radio broadcasting

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TRAI has recommended allowing private sector to provide digital radio broadcasting services within the existing frequency band of 88-108MHz used for FM radio broadcasting. Read TRAI’s recommendation here.

TRAI’s recommendation mentions that presently radio signals are largely transmitted in analog mode in the country. Analog terrestrial radio broadcasting when compared with digital mode is inefficient and suffers with operational restrictions.

It also recommended auctioning of 200 khz bandwith spectrum in ‘VHF-II’ band in phases for providing digital radio broadcasting services.

The recommendation suggests the government to notify a policy framework for digital radio broadcasting in India in a time-bound manner with a clear roadmap for roll-out of services to enable smooth transition from analog to digital mode.

TRAI has also suggested that the government should grant fiscal incentives in the form of lower taxes to manufacturers of digital radio recievers for three years after declaring the policy.

The authority hoped that the recommendations would enable smooth transition from analog to digital radio broadcasting services.

With the advancement in technologies, digital radio technologies around the globe have been developed and adopted by a number of countries in order to offer more choice to listeners along with efficient use of spectrum. Digital Radio broadcasting provides a number of advantages over analog radio broadcasting. The biggest advantage of digital radio is that it is possible to broadcast three to four channels on a single frequency carrier while ensuring excellent quality of audio for all the channels whereas analog mode broadcasts only one channel on a frequency carrier.

TRAI is of the view that introduction of digital radio broadcasting would allow the radio broadcasters to offer a variety of channels which will provide diverse content to the listeners but would also result in increase in the penetration of radio broadcasting in 18 different markets and would result in growth of the revenue of the broadcasters and the government as well. The Authority is also of the view that in order to bring all the stakeholders – radio broadcasters, transmission equipment manufacturers, and digital receivers manufacturers – on one platform and encourage them to work collectively for developing the ecosystem for digital radio broadcasting, the government should come out with a detailed policy framework for Digital Radio Broadcasting in India which should provide detailed roadmap for rollout of digital radio broadcasting services in a time bound manner.

List of TRAI recommendations:

  • The WPC wing of DoT shall carry out necessary amendments in NFAP-2011 for permitting radio broadcasting including digital radio broadcasting in MW, SW, and VHF-II frequency bands also, which are already identified for and being used for radio broadcasting in India.
  • A managed introduction approach should be adopted for rolling out digital radio broadcasting services in India.
  • Private sector should be permitted to provide digital radio broadcasting services within the existing frequency band of 88 – 108 MHz used for FM radio broadcasting.
  • The frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting for vacant 600 KHz spectrum between two allocated FM frequencies in VHF-II band should be completed by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together within three months for category A+ (4 Metro cities), and category A cities (8 cities) in first phase.
  • The frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting services in VHF-II band for rest of the country should be completed by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together in second phase.
  • Frequency and geographical area coverage planning for digital radio broadcasting services using VHF-III (174-230 MHz) band of spectrum should also be carried out by BECIL, AIR, and WPC together in third phase, after this spectrum get vacated.
  • WPC should notify the channel plan for each type of digital radio broadcasting technology.
  • 200 KHz bandwidth spectrum between two allocated FM frequencies in VHF-II band should be auctioned for providing digital Radio broadcasting services in category A+ (4 Metro cities), and category A cities (8 cities) immediately after notification of the policy for digital radio broadcasting and notification of channel plan by WPC.
  • Auction should be carried out in phases – starting with cities of category ‘A+’ and ‘A’ and subsequently in cities of other categories.
  • Immediately after the successful auction of spectrum for digital radio broadcasting, an offer should be made to the existing FM Radio broadcasters to get their existing frequency bandwidth of + 100 KHz, already allocated to them through auction in Phase-III of FM Radio, liberalized and provide digital radio broadcasting services in simulcast mode with analog FM Radio services.
  • For liberalizing of existing spectrum, already allocated to the FM radio broadcasters in Phase-III of FM Radio, they will have to pay an amount equal to the difference of auction determined price of equivalent spectrum for digital radio broadcasting in a city and amount paid for allocation of FM radio frequency.
  • In case market determined prince of 200 KHz for digital radio broadcasting is less than or equal to the price paid by FM radio broadcasters than FM radio broadcasters will not be required to pay any additional amount and he will be permitted to provide digital radio broadcasting services also for the remaining period of permission.
  • The broadcasters should be allowed to make use of any available digital technology, recognized by ITU, within the allocated/liberalized spectrum for providing digital radio broadcasting services subject to adaptation, if any, recommended by MIB/TRAI from time to time.
  • No date for digital switch over of radio broadcasting services should be declared at this stage.
  • Existing analog FM Radio channels should be allowed to remain operational for the remaining period of their Phase-III permissions.
  • The continuance of operation of existing analog FM Radio channels that do not migrate to digital radio broadcasting, should be reviewed after the expiry of their existing Phase-III permissions.
  • The auction of remaining channels of Phase-III should be done by delinking them from technology. Broadcasters should be permitted to use any technology (analog or digital or both) for radio broadcasting on the frequency allocated to them through auction in future. In case Radio broadcasters opt for digital technology, they should be permitted to broadcast more than one channel subject to technical feasibility on single frequency allocated to them.
  • For initial three years after declaration of Digital Radio Broadcasting Policy, the Government should grant fiscal incentives in the form of lower tax rates to manufacturers of digital radio receivers.

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