India gov't gives HITS go-ahead
Rose Major
Thursday, 12 November 2009 19:47

India’s government has approved the Ministry of Infirmation and Broadcasting’s policy guidelines for Headend-in-the-Sky (HITS) operators. As part of the proposals, operators will be allowed foreign investment of 74%, much higher than DTH’s 49%.

But there are as yet no details on the issue of whether operators must pay a license fee. The Ministry had recommended a zero annual fee from providers, but there appears to be no decision on that matter.

However, the go-ahead means that cable operators will have a way to offer digital TV without expensively upgrading the entire existing networks. In a statement, the government said the introduction of HITS was aimed at speeding up digitisation of India’s cable systems.

Regulator TRAI has previously estimated that the introduction of HITS could cut cable digital upgrade costs from an estimated Rs150 billion (US$3.2 billion) to Rs13 billion

At a traditional cable television headend, multitudes of satellite dishes and antennas are used to grab cable stations from dozens of communication satellites. In contrast, HITS combines cable stations into multiplex signals on just a few satellites; cable television companies can then pull in hundreds of channels at the local headend with relatively little equipment; the HITS feed effectively replaces the more complex traditional headend operations.

HITS operators will not be allowed to provide signals directly to subscribers. However, if the HITS operator is also an MSO/cable operator, they can do so.

India’s government said: “HITS would help a subscriber with a wide choice of digital channels, better picture quality and value added services at affordable price. HITS would provide greater channel capacity from the present limited capacity of channels placed in prime/non prime band.”

As well as 74% foreign investment (of which only 49% can come directly and above which companies will need government approval), operators will have a 20% cross-media restriction.

Wire and Wireless India, the Essel/Zee-backed cable operator, hs already received permission to launch a HITS service. The operator is promising a platform with lower rates than for DTH yet with more channels.

There is no restriction on the numbers of HITS operators allowed.