Law Telecom

Direct-to-Home (DTH) Services in India

DTH Regulations in India
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In India Direct-to-Home (DTH) licenses are issued to service providers by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). The country currently has 5 pay DTH service providers and 1 free to air service provider. Videocon DTH which was the sixth pay DTH operator merged with another operator Dish TV in March 2018.

Under the regulations, Direct-to-Home (DTH) Broadcasting Service refers to distribution of multi channel TV programmes in Ku Band by using a satellite system and providing TV signals direct to subscribers’ premises without passing through an intermediary such as cable operator. As such, a DTH service provider can only provide services to end consumers.

Till the year 2001, union government imposed a ban on reception and distribution of television signal in Ku band. Vide notification No. GSR 18 (E) dated 9th January, 2001 of the Department of Telecommunications the ban was lifted to permit DTH services. Soon India’s first private DTH license was given to Dish TV in 2003 which started operations in 2004 and government owned Prasar Bharati launched DD-Direct Plus in the same year offering free-to-air channels.

DTH Services in India: Overview

Number of pay DTH service providers* 5
Tata Sky Ltd
Dish TV India Ltd
SUN Direct TV(P) Ltd
Bharti Telemedia Ltd.
Independent TV (P) Ltd formerly Reliance Big TV Pvt. Ltd
Number of Pay Subscribers net Active with Private DTH Operators.* 67.53 Million
Number of broadcasters providing pay channels.* 49
Number of Pay TV Channels provided by broadcasters.* 308
Total number of private channels permitted for uplinking / downlinking* 875

Geo stationery satellites which orbit earth at the altitude of 35,786 KM above the equator are used for transmission of television channels. Satellite transmission of television channels is usually done using two types of bands: C band with frequencies ranging from 4.0 to 8.0 gigahertz and Ku Band with frequencies ranging between 12 to 18 gigahertz.

DTH Companies in India: Shareholding

Videocon Dish Tv merged entity Dish TV shareholders 55.4%; Videocon shareholders 44.6%
Tata Sky Ltd 21st Century Fox 30%; Temasek Holdings 10%; Tata Group 60%
SUN Direct TV(P) Ltd ‎Sun Network‎ 80%; ‎Astro Group‎ 20%
Independent TV Ltd. (formerly Reliance Big TV Pvt. Ltd) Pantel Technologies; Veecon Media & Television Ltd (VMTL)
Bharti Telemedia Tv Pvt Ltd Bharti Airtel Limited
DTH Services: Ku band advanatage

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C-band was the first band (analog service) to be used for satellite communication systems and requires larger size of dish antenna (6 feet to 8 feet) to receive the signals. Over the time, the band got overloaded as same frequency being used by terrestrial microwave links. To ease the load on C-band, modern satellites with new frequencies Ku and Ka band were launched. The primary advantages of Ku and ka bands compared with C-band is that these bands are not similarly restricted in power and the power of its uplinks and downlinks can be increased.

The lower the frequency, the larger the size of dish antenna required at the receiving station to receive more focused signals. As such, as mentioned earlier C-band receiving antennas are between 6 feet to 8 feet while Direct to Home (DTH) services using Ku band require much smaller dish antennas (2 to 4 feet). Ku-band is preferred for cases where there is a limited area for installation (as in case DTH services). Further, Ku-band is better for satellite applications that need smaller bandwidth as the equipment is cheaper than C-band. While Ku-band has several advantages over C-band, Ku is susceptible to disruptions by heavy rains.

DTH License Terms:

Similar to telecom licenses, a DTH license is issued only to Indian companies. From the year 2015, FDI limit in DTH service providers was enhanced to 100%. A license is valid for 10 years. The Licensee is required to pay an initial non-refundable entry fee of Rs.10 crores before the issue of letter of intent to him by Licensor, and, after the issue of the Wireless Operational License by the Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) Wing of the Ministry of Communications, an annual fee equivalent to 10% of its gross revenue in that particular financial year is payable as fee within one month of the end of that year. A proposal to increase the license term to 20 years and entry fee to 25 crore is currently pending.

Under the license terms, DTH operators can only use satellites commissioned by Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) or in case there is no sufficient capacity on ISRO satellites then they are permitted to use capacity leased by ISRO from foreign satellites. As such INSAT – 4A, GSAT – 10 is used by Tata Sky to provide services with MPEG4 compression.

MEASAT 3 is a satellite owned by Malaysia East Asia satellite systems having 24 Ku band transponders of which 13 have been leased by ISRO. Reliance digital TV uses 9 of these Ku band transponders for broadcasting SD and HD channels using MPEG4 compression, Sun Direct uses 4 Ku band transponders for broadcasting SD channels using MPEG4 compression.

ST 2 is a satellite owned by a joint venture between SingTel and Chunghwa telecom which has 41 Ku band transponders of which 12 were used by Videocon till March 2018 to broadcast SD and HD channels using MPEG4 compression. Similarly, transponders on ISRO owned GSAT 15 are used by DD free dish for free-to-air channels and by Sun Direct for broadcasting HD channels using HEVC compression. Other satellites used by Indian DTH service providers include NSS-6, Asiasat-5, SES-7.

Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of ISRO is tasked with the responsibility of allocating transponder capacity to DTH operators. Antrix Corporation Limited, incorporated on 28 September 1992 under the Companies Act, 1956 is a wholly owned Government of India Company under the administrative control of Department of Space (DOS). As of July 2018, DTH operators are using 42 transponders from ISRO satellites and about 67 transponders that are leased from foreign satellite operators.

A licensee who violates the license terms is liable to a penalty of up to Rs. 50 crores in addition to any other action including revocation of license. Further to acquire a  license, the applicant is also required to submit a bank guarantee of Rs. 40 crore valid for the period of license term.

DTH License agreement: The must carry conundrum

Clause 7.6 of DTH license agreement stipulates that the Licensee shall provide access to various content providers / channels on a non-discriminatory basis. This clause was misinterpreted to mean “must carry”, i.e., the DTH operators must carry all the channels in a non-discriminatory manner when so approached by broadcasters. While such carriage of all channels is not possible due to transponder constraints. Further, under clause 7.8 every DTH provider has to mandatorily include all the channels of  state owned broadcaster Prasar Bharti.

The issue of clause 7.6 was settled by TDSAT in M/s. Tata Sky Ltd. v/s. M/s. Zee Turner Ltd. & ors in petition no. 189 (C) of 2006:

A plain reading of clause 7.6 suggests that the obligation is cast on a Licensee to provide access to various content providers /channels on a non discriminatory basis. As per this clause, therefore, the Licensee is not the seeker of channels. The broadcasters or the content providers have to approach the Licensee for providing access on its platform for their channels and then the Licensee is required to do so on a non-discriminatory basis.
… If a DTH operator has to take all the channels of every broadcaster, it may not be physically possible to do so. Moreover, if every channel has to be taken it means that it will have to be paid for.

* Figures as of March 2018

About the author

KP Krishna

Krishna KP is the founder of Preview Tech. He is a marketing geek and helps webmasters to monetize their web properties. When not online he is involved in debates with his friends over the issues that concern the world!

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