June 12, 1997
NEW DELHI, June 11: A new Satellite Bill, expected to be made public this month, proposes to open up the sky to private bidders. Private entrepreneurs will be able to pay and use transponders on Indian communication satellites and even have Indian rockets launch privately built satellites.
The new SATCOM policy will transform India’s space programme which so far has been a monopoly of the government, its departments the only ones that can use indigenously built communication satellites. “Indian entrepreneurs can bid for transponder space or a transponder itself, and in the long run, if they have the money, a satellite,” says Minister for Science and Technology Yogendra Alagh.
The draft policy bill is before the Cabinet. Until now the government has not opened up Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s satellites to private providers of satellite-based telecom or TV channels. With the launch of the INSAT-2E next year, the second-generation satellite series will be complete. With the INSAT-3 series to be launched by Indian rockets, ISRO plans to aggressively enter the $ 30-billion global market for space hardware.
So far the 63 transponders available have been divided between Doordarshan and Department of Telecommunication and with some set aside for defence and other specialised uses. With the launch of INSAT-2D on June 4, 20 more transponders will become available. Already in the case of the forthcoming INSAT-2E, ISRO has sold 10 transponders to the global space marketing agency, Intelsat.
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Once the new SATCOM policy comes through, says Alagh, “just as you can go out and buy a telephone, private users should be able to go out and buy a geographic mapping system obtained via a remote sensing satellite facility or transponder space for multi-satellite channels and DTH.”
Analayst R. Ramachandran who has been monitoring India’s space programme feels that even now there is underutilisation of capacity, although on paper transponder space is all committed. Alagh accepts that in a system “where nobody really pays, and the objectives are oriented towards social not market needs, then most users tend to grab capacity, if transponder space is made available at notional cost.”
That is set to change with the new SATCOM policy which focuses on the market. Social objectives, too, are not to be lost as use of satellite communications to promote education or photometry for water survey will continue. “ISRO’s intention is to walk on two legs there are the strategic uses which cannot be costed in annas and paisa,” says Alagh. “The other, is to build capacity for markets for space products at home and abroad including launches,” he adds.
As for the role of the private sector, Alagh says ISRO just does not have the budgetary resources to go it alone. The ISRO Chairman, K. Kasturirangan, in an interview had suggested that “it’s not necessary that all Indian registered satellites be built by ISRO. It can be built anywhere. It is registration which provides control.” The moot question is: Can ISRO, a government research organisation, successfully compete as production-cum- marketing unit in the global space market?
The proposed SATCOM policy is in line with the pressure to liberalise the telecommunication and broadcasting policies. Driven by the revolution in telecom, TV and Internet, the SATCOM Bill in tandem with the Broadcasting Bill seeks to break the stranglehold of government over communication policy.The Broadcasting Bill provides for uplinking from India and the preferable use of Indian satellites. “Yes, when capacity becomes available,” says Alagh.
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