India’s government proposes ending satellite competition

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The competition cools down? A regulatory agency in India is proposing eliminating commercial satellite competition and consolidating all satellite television broadcasts onto a handful of government owned and launched satellites.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign seeks to promote India’s domestic industrial base. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on May 23 published what it calls a “pre-consultation paper” that points to the savings satellite-television broadcasters could realize if they stopped beaming the same programs on different satellites, and instead banded together on one or two spacecraft.

As of March 2015, the latest period for which TRAI has produced figures, there were 76 million DTH subscribers in India, of which 41.1 million were considered active. These subscribers received programming from six pay TV DTH providers and one free-to-air satellite broadcast service. TRAI said multiple DTH providers are broadcasting the same channels even as they compete with each other for subscribers. “There is scope for better utilization of available infrastructure,” TRAI said. “There is a need to examine technical and commercial issues in sharing of infrastructure such as satellite transponders, Earth station facilities….”

There is also this important component to the story:

India has been one of the biggest satellite-DTH growth markets in recent years, but one in which barriers to entry by foreigners remain high. Under Indian law, television broadcasters seeking operating licenses are given preferential treatment if they use India’s own Insat telecommunications satellites, owned and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Non-Indian satellites are permitted if ISRO’s Insat system does not have sufficient capacity to meet programmers’ demand. This has been the case for years as ISRO has been unable to keep up with the market for satellite television.

In other words, the commercial satellite business in India is doing great, so let’s muck it up by having one government agency create a monopoly for another government agency.

The United States tried this in the 1960s when it banned private companies from launching commercial communications satellites and instead required all such satellites to be built by the government-managed Comsat corporation. The result in the U.S. was a squelched satellite and launch industry that did not recover for more than a decade, and only did so when the Nixon administration forced a change in the rules.



  • Tom Billings

    The Babu State is still strong in India. Where State control can be linked with nationalism, Modi’s BJP is just as susceptible to this sort of thing as is the Congress Party. Every time space industry becomes more consequential, politically, there will be more pressure to bring it under State control.

    It is notable that the example of comsat is similar in that the Kennedy administration wanted to both keep communications more closely under progressive supervision *and* to placate allies like France. In the 1960s having IntelSat concentrate on GEO comsats kept LEO comsats, such as had been promoted by the Eisenhower administration, out of the picture. It was obvious even then that LEO comsats could soon be broadcasting directly to consumers, while GEO comsats were bound for more than a decade to large receiving dishes that governments could turn on and off at will.

    With India, the Babu State bureaucrats feel this need for control even more than the graduates of the Ecoles d’ Superior do in France, and Harvard grads do here.

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    India is culturally-bound to bureaucracy. That’s one reason they are far behind the Red Chinese in industrialization.

  • wayne

    Tom Billings
    D K Rögnvald Williams:

    Gentlemen–great comments! (I’m a complete civilian & you paint a pretty clear picture for me.)

    Is the bureaucracy ‘thing a remnant of the British or does it go back further? (I’m moderately fuzzy on Indian history.)

  • Edward

    Once again, a governing body thinks that it knows how to do business better than the businesses that interact with their own customers, suppliers, and competitors.

    Companies are already encouraged by competition to find the best use of resources. If that best use included multiple companies getting together to combine their broadcasts, then those companies should be allowed — not forced — to do so.

    Once again, an intellectual thinks he is smarter than those actively involved in their own businesses. Next thing you know, some intellectual will tell business owners that they are not smart enough and didn’t work hard enough to have built their own businesses.

    Oh, wait … (1 minute)

    India was partial to the Soviet Union and had centralized control over the economy and business from the time of its break from Britain until a couple of decades ago. Only recently have they, and China, started moving in the direction of free market capitalism.

    For several decades, there were about 1 billion “wealthy” people in the world (essentially, people living in first world nations). As the world’s population grew from 3 billion to 6 billion, the poor grew from 2 billion to 5 billion, and this was seen as a great unfairness (e.g. 5% of the world’s population consumed 25% of the world’s economy — yes, that was the US). However, with the new economic freedoms growing in both India and China, the number of “wealthy” people has grown to 2 billion in a world of 7 billion people. About half the increase was in India, and the other half was in China. Europe and the Americas still have the other (original) billion.

    It is no coincidence that wealth and prosperity are growing in the two countries that are becoming more free market. Free market capitalism has created more prosperity than any other economic system ever tried (and all other systems combined).

    Free market businesses are encouraged by the market to improve their efficiencies in making their customers more prosperous, leaving left over scarce resources for others to use for their own businesses that also improve prosperity.

  • Tom Billings

    Wayne asked:

    “Is the bureaucracy ‘thing a remnant of the British or does it go back further? (I’m moderately fuzzy on Indian history.)”

    Babus go back at least as far as Asoka’s Empire around 200BC. The Emperors come and go with battles, but the Babus are still there, to collect the taxes and manage the water projects, and everything else the rulers want to be in control of, …through the Babus.

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