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Private firms might get to buy or lease foreign satellites

Indian Space Research Organisation
(Isro) has begun discussions to draft
an ‘Open Sky Policy’ that would allow
private companies to buy or lease
foreign communication satellites and
operate over Indian skies and the
South Asian region.

The move could help Indian users such
as direct to home satellite
broadcasters and VSAT operators, who
provide connectivity for banks and
ATMs, take quicker decisions to scale
and reduce cost of transactions.
“We are coming up with approaches
and encouraging the private operators
to acquire (satellites and
transponders) and then make that
acquisition available under the Indian
government administration,” A S Kiran
Kumar, chairman of Isro said in an
interview with Business Standard.
He did not set a timeline for the
policy change which needs Union
Cabinet approval.

Currently, any connectivity
requirement through satellites sought
by users in India, either Indian or
foreign, is managed by Antrix
Corporation, the commercial arm of
Isro. Antrix signs deals with foreign
satellite operators on behalf of
users, only after exhausting the local
satellite capacity. This, Isro admits is

India already allows private players to
make satellites in the country.
Globally, most nations, including
China and India have adopted a “closed
sky policy,” to restrict foreign
satellite operators to directly deal
with end consumers to protect its
“orbit spectrum” — the slot in the
geostationary orbit for
communication satellites allocated to
individual countries and the spectrum
it beams.

Security is also a concern for this
restriction. In addition, the Indian
space agency wanted to protect its
nascent space and satellite industry.
In 2012, the Satellite Industry
Association, a US lobby group of
satellite makers had represented to
the US government to intervene for an
open sky policy in India and China.
China does not allow private interests
in its satellite industry.

In India, the growth in the direct-
to-home (DTH) operators has put
pressure on Isro. The space agency
has limited capabilities of rockets
that can launch satellites to the orbit
where communication satellites are
placed. So, it hasn’t got enough of its
own satellites in orbit with Ku band
transponders, with capability for DTH
transmission. Instead it is leasing the
transponders from foreign satellites.
As on July 13, of the total 76
transponders used by Indian DTH
operators, 57 or three-fourths were
leased from foreign satellites,
according to report by the Comptroller
and Auditor General submitted in the
parliament in November 2014. It also
said the increase could be as high as
90 percent after Tata Sky shifted to
foreign satellites. The total
requirement is around 200

“We have surplus (capacity of
transponders), except in DTH. We
should be looking at how same
channels are using multiple
transponders. If the resource usage
is effectively managed, you will see
there is under utilisation of the
capacity,” said Kumar. “We make
efforts to provide the required
capacity and meet the demand. If we
are not able to meet the demand, then
it is best to allow the industry itself
to start building capacity”.

The slow progress in launching India’s
own DTH satellites has meant that at
least five orbital slots for the
country has been occupied by foreign
satellites, the CAG report said.
The open sky policy is also aimed at
reversing this trend. An Indian
company that owns or leases satellite
will work under the administrative
control of the government, complying
with local rules that mandate the
orbital slots remain with India. The
necessary agreements to retain the
slots in Indian control will be routed
through the International
Telecommunications Union, the global
body to discuss such issues.

“There are implementation related
norms. We are going through the
process of change. That has been
initiated, it will be crystallised,” said
Kumar. “Indian operator and company
can go through the process and
acquire. And, when they acquire, they
bring it to the Indian administration”.

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