Disconnect FM Phase-III auctions from technology, TRAI reiterates

In response to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s request to review certain recommendations, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reiterated its position on “Reserve Price for FM Radio Channel Auctionin 283 cities across the country under Phase 3 of FM’s expansion policy, saying the auction should be done by unbundling channels from technology.

With regard to this recommendation, the ministry had previously informed TRAI that after conducting field experiments of ITU-recommended digital radio standards in VHF bands II and III, Prasar Bharati had suggested conducting a pilot project consisting of both DRM and HD Radio technologies to further evaluate them forward and also verify their acceptance by broadcasters and listeners, including the availability and speed of development of affordable receivers. Given the more experimental studies to be conducted, the recommendation may not be acceptable at this time.

Reiterating his positionTRAI said: “With regard to the auction linked to the recommendation of the remaining Phase III channels, which should be carried out by decoupling them from the technology, to facilitate the smooth transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, broadcasters can be allowed to use any technology (analogue or digital) for radio broadcasting on the frequency that will be allocated to them through auctions in the future, based on their business plan.

A service provider has the business interest and will be the best judge in deciding the most appropriate technology. Any restrictions on the choice of technology will only hinder development. Broadcasters should be allowed to use any technology (analog or digital or both) for radio broadcasting on the frequency allocated to them through auctions in the future. In case broadcasters opt for digital technology, they should be allowed to broadcast more than one channel subject to technical feasibility on a single frequency allocated to them.

The ministry had also asked what the impact of Covid19 on the radio industry was likely to appear in the bidding at the ensuing FM Phase III Lot III auction.

TRAI replied that it can only be assessed once the auction is organized by the government.

TRAI also observed that the FM radio sector experienced a drop in revenue during the Covid period, but it broke through the pre-pandemic level in December 2021.

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