Phase 3 of FM radio expansion soon

The Union Cabinet is expected to take up the matter soon, and once the green signal is given by it, the bidding process for over 700 new stations, most of which would be located in smaller towns, will begin.

Even though the first two phases of FM radio expansion have taken place several years ago, the third phase of the process has been lying in a limbo due to primarily opposition from the industry to certain norms prevalent currently, including royalty to be paid to music companies.

Finally, the process has got the green signal from a high level panel appointed to look into the pros and cons of the process. Incidentally, the move forward has happened just days after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommendation that the FDI ceiling in the FM radio sector be increased from the current 20 to 26 per cent, down from its earlier suggested 49 per cent.

The most important development during the third phase expansion will, however, be the permission to the private FM stations to broadcast news, albeit with certain pre-conditions, such as the news content having to be sourced from the All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Over 250 FM stations are operational in various parts of the country at present, set up under the first and second phases of FM radio expansion, and the third phase thus would see a much larger expansion than the second which saw licences for over 250 stations in 91 cities given out in 2006. The phase 3 expansion is also expected to see certain changes in the norms, such as permission to private stations to set up their own transmission facilities, unlike the now mandatory co-location of such facilities on Prasar Bharati infrastructure.

It is also likely to see relaxation in the 15 per cent limit on the number of channels an entity can own in the case of Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East.

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