Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is set to recommend sharing of back-end infrastructure between satellite TV service distributors to help them cut their costs of operations, according to an official familiar with the development. The official said the proposals were also aimed at increasing competition in the distribution segment by encouraging entry of more players, particularly in the direct-to-home, and headend-in-the-sky (HITS) services.

The recommendations, likely to be made public today, will be sent to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for its consideration and approval.

Among major changes that the broadcast regulator is likely to recommend is a proposal to allow sharing of satellite transponders and earth station facilities by a DTH operator with other DTH players and distribution platforms. TRAI feels sharing of transponders would not only address their demand-supply mismatch but also reduce both capital and operating expenditure of the companies and hence also spur competition. This will increase affordability for the subscribers.

"In case of a shared satellite capacity/transponder, the licencee in whose name it has been issued will continue to be responsible for ensuring compliance with all licence conditions," the official said.

DTH sector is one of the largest users of satellite transponders. With increase in demand for high definition channels, the requirement for satellite transponders is also increasing day by day. Availability of adequate satellite transponders for growth is always a concern of DTH operators.

Currently, each DTH operator uplinks the signals of TV channels to different satellites located at different orbital slots. According to TRAI’s consultation paper on the subject floated in September last year, more than 100 transponders of 36 MHz equivalent are in operation by existing six DTH operators. Each DTH operator transmits approximately 350 to 450 standard definition TV channels and around 50 HD channels on its platforms.

It may be noted that more than 80 percent channels are common across the DTH operators. In this scenario, enabling sharing of satellite transponders and Earth station facilities, may reduce the entry barriers and reduce capex and opex (capital and operational expenditures) of operators.

Changes suggested by TRAI would require amending the licence conditions which so far barred many of the conditions TRAI is set to propose. Another proposal that will require changes to the licence conditions will allow sharing of signals by HITS companies with multi system operators.

HITS networks are similar to digital cable TV networks except for the fact that in their case, the signals of TV channels are transmitted to cable operators using satellite in place of optical fiber network used by MSO for the purpose. Both MSO and HITS operators distribute the signals of TV channels to subscribers through local cable networks.

HITS means transmission of programmes including re-transmission of signals of television channels to intermediaries like local cable operators or multi system operators by using a satellite system or to the subscribers directly by using satellite system or its own cable network.

At present, there are more than 900 multi-system operators providing cable TV services through digital addressable systems and 60,000 cable operators. There are 6 private DTH companies, a few Internet TV service providers and two HITS operators. These platforms together carry around 900 satellite TV channels.

The proposals, if approved by the ministry, will not be binding on any stakeholder but only make it optional for them, the official said. – Money Control