The government’s famed inability to get anything moving on the ground seems to have spread to space. A clutch of Direct-to-Home (DTH) firms, FE reported today, desperately need transponders to be able to carry signals of various TV channels—while the current capacity of between 8 and 12 Ku-band transponders is enough to carry signals for around 200 channels, India has around 700 television channels. And we’re not even talking of the value-added services like video-on-demand or music-on-demand. If the operators are to offer the remaining 500 channels, they need additional capacity of 70-80 Ku-band transponders on satellites. While each firm has gone to ISRO to ask for fresh transponder space—no one is quibbling on the charges—ISRO hasn’t been able to create enough additional capacity. The next-best alternative is to hire capacity on foreign transponders. Since the law mandates that only ISRO can do this, DTH firms are asking ISRO to sign up capacity and take its 10-15% commission charge for this.
Pretty straight-forward, except ISRO’s INSAT Coordination Council, or ICC, doesn’t seem to be moving on this either. One possibility is that with the CAG and the courts a lot more proactive, ISRO wants to be a lot more cautious—though a lot of this happened even before the CAG report on Antrix-Devas, things have slowed down more of late. ISRO’s contention that it has other priorities may be justified—after all, rockets need to be launched and satellites need to be manufactured and commercialised to meet the defence requirements of the country—but the current situation is unacceptable. While ISRO has to try and expedite the launch of its GSAT-5 satellite with 36 transponders, a way needs to be found to address legitimate security concerns—that’s why DTH firms can’t contract directly with foreign satellites to book transponder capacity—while ensuring industry’s needs don’t suffer. Perhaps resolving the policy paralysis in space is something the PMO will get to once it has sorted out the problems on the ground.