India has 322 FM radio stations operational in 86 cities by 34 private FM Radio broadcasters at the end of September 2017.
Along with the public broadcaster AIR and private FM radio, 210 Community Radio Stations (CRS) are present in India.
TRAI said there is a need to facilitate digital radio broadcasting in India to effectively utilize spectrum in VHF-II band for radio broadcasting, to provide diverse content and other value-added services to radio listeners.
The Government should notify the policy framework for Digital Radio Broadcasting in India with a clear roadmap for rollout of digital radio broadcasting services.
The WPC wing of DoT should carry out 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.
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 42 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.
After the 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 use of any available digital technology, recognized by ITU, within the allocated/liberalized spectrum for providing digital radio broadcasting services subject to adaptation. 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.
Image source: Study Magazine