The Zee group has come out all guns blazing on the issue of allocation of licenses and spectrum for Mobile TV in India. The group has told the TRAI in comments submitted on Mobile TV that just having the capability to transmit TV content doesn’t mean that Telecom operators do not need a license for media sector services. Zee has mooted the concept of a Universal Broadcaster, allowing existing broadcasters to offer Mobile TV, making the case for DTH operators like Zee’s Dish TV to be automatically permitted to extend their transmission to mobiles and be granted spectrum. “Universal Access Service License (UASL) licensees” (like telcos), says Zee, should need a separate “Universal Broadcaster License”. In addition, licenses should be awarded only to those companies with a minimum of 10 years experience in running channels of all genres, with an experience of a minimum of three years of operating an encrypted Pay TV service in India. I think that rules out everyone apart from Zee.
Zee has also asked for Qualcomm’s (NSDQ: QCOM) MediaFLO to be barred since India has been following the DVB standards, and no spectrum for Telecom or WiMax operators. The group has advocated the use of terrestrial spectrum only, and that DTH operators be granted terrestrial transmitters so as to use both satellite frequencies and terrestrial transmission. In terms of Foreign Direct Investment into the mobile TV segment, Zee wants it to be in line with DTH operators — 49% Foreign Equity Cap for the company, of which no more than 20% from any foreign investor in DTH Services — thus ruling out telcos, which have a 74 percent limit. Sony (NYSE: SNE) Entertainment Television (SET) however, wants 100 percent FDI to be allowed.
More pre-Diwali fireworks in the extended text
Zee has also asked the TRAI to club the licensing of Mobile TV and Terrestrial TV, since DVB-H is an extension of DVB-T, and allow city-wise licensing of Mobile TV. Mobile operators and lobbying groups like the AUSPI (CDMA operator group) and COAI (GSM operator group) want exactly the opposite. Telcos obviously want no new license for existing UASL operators, but new ones for Standalone Mobile TV operators. AUSPI wants the service to be limited to UASL holders – mostly mobile operators., and for the Mobile TV license to be based on the area of operation under the UAS license; others want spectrum to be allocated according to telecom circles. Airtel also wants spectrum to be allocated only for DVB-H or FLO. The COAI has pushed for 3G, saying that it is the fastest way to get Mobile TV off the ground. Reliance wants the spectrum to be auctioned (hence more expensive, higher stakes), while most stakeholders prefer allocation based on usage. The third major broadcaster – News Corp owned STAR India, has been rather muted in its comments, playing the nice guy and asking for a level playing field.
Clearly, there are areas of disagreement between the stakeholders, and one should expect more fireworks at the TRAI Open House discussion (details here, pdf) on 26th November in Delhi. Let me know if you’re attending – nikhil AT contentsutra DOT com. In the meantime, all the above comments and more are available at the TRAI site.