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Satellite spectrum auctions will negatively impact industries in the ecosystem

Esya Centre, a leading technology policy think tank based in New Delhi, has published a report titled “Assigning spectrum for satellite services in India”. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on “Assignment of Spectrum for Space-based Communication Services” in April 2023, triggered a debate on whether spectrum should be assigned across satcom services via auctions. It has also sparked concerns about access to sufficient satellite spectrum amongst global satellite operators such as Amazon (Project Kuiper) and OneWeb who want to enter the Indian market.

The report has come at a time when TRAI is consulting with stakeholders on spectrum assignment for space-based communication services. It presents a comprehensive analysis of technical, regulatory, and economic arguments on this issue and echoes the view of majority stakeholders.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Amjad Ali Khan, Director at Esya Centre says, “Our report brings forth the inefficiencies in assigning satellite spectrum via auctions, which can adversely impact services of public interest such as broadcasting. The findings highlight the need for additional assessment to determine the most optimal method of spectrum utilization.”

The Esya report highlights allocational inefficiencies associated with auction of satellite spectrum. The analysis of previous auctions reveals that a significant portion of the spectrum remains unsold, when auctioned. Despite the telco-led demand for C-band (3300-4200 MHz), 28 percent of the spectrum put up for IMT/5G auctions in 2022, remained unsold. Further, 99 percent of this spectrum was sold at the reserve price, highlighting inefficiencies in the auction’s allocational and price discovery mechanism.

The research identifies key economic challenges associated with satellite spectrum auctions that may negatively impact broadcasting services. First, auction of satellite spectrum will increase market concentration by limiting entry to a few dominant players. Second, it may disrupt broadcasting services if Low-Noise Block (LNBs) receivers get overloaded, because of high terrestrial transmissions in the 3300-3670 MHz band. Third, it will increase the fixed cost burden of TV distributors who will require specialised equipment such as high-quality bandpass and cavity filters to mitigate interference of signals. Finally, the aforementioned challenges may hinder distribution of content, and potentially violate freedom of speech and expression of broadcasters.

As India contemplates an efficient allocational route for satellite spectrum, the study recommends that TRAI should conduct an in-depth analysis on key sub themes related to spectrum assignment. This includes the potential impact of spectrum auctions on satcom services and on other policy efforts such as the Draft Telecommunications Bill, the Indian Space Policy, the Uplinking and Downlinking Guidelines. Further, the study recommends an assessment of cost burden to shift incumbent services to another band and its implications on international and regional coordination mechanism.

CT Bureau

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