FM Radio Privatisation: Govt May Drop Co-location Of Transmitters

New Delhi: | Updated: Sep 24 2003, 05:30am hrs
Co-location of transmitters, which was mandatory in phase one of FM radio privatisation for the metros, is likely to be dropped now. If that is done, the immediate gainer will be Mumbai. While players in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai were forced to co-locate on a single tower to save spectrum, Mumbai was given time till December 2003 to co-locate. However, since the second phase of privatisation is round the corner and more frequencies are about to be allocated, the existing players in Mumbai are expected to be spared also, said sources.

At this point, even if the government makes it mandatory for Mumbai players to co-locate their transmitters by December, it would be impossible to do so, it is felt. It takes around two years to complete the process of co-location, and Mumbai licencees have not even initiated it yet. While All India Radio (AIR) towers were available for co-location to Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata licencees at a fee, no such facility could be offered in Mumbai. That is when the government decided to give a breather to Mumbais players (five private stations and one Ignou channel), and asked them to comply with the co-location norms by December 2003.

In the first phase, co-location was made mandatory to prevent a clash between frequencies and save spectrum. According to experts, co-location becomes a must if a city has more than 10 FM stations, as the minimum separation required between channels is 400 khz. But, up to eight or nine stations per city, co-location is not needed, as the separation between channels automatically widens. In Mumbai, the separation between channels is over 800 khz, an official associated with the radio business said.

In the past, the co-location clause has given sleepless nights to many. For instance, one saw integrators (for co-locating transmitters) being appointed and rejected, and differences erupting between competing players over infrastructure cost etc. But despite all that, when private FM radio licencees in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai wanted to set up individual operations in the three metros, government ordered them to co-locate. Even interim individual operations were not allowed. Mumbai players were however allowed to go in for an interim set-up.

Currently, an expert committee on FM radio is in the process of making recommendations for the second phase of privatisation. The committee report is expected to be submitted by October 31.