Indian Nets Get Domestic-Uplink OK


New Delhi, India -- The country's newly installed
Bharatiya Janata Party last month gave Indian-owned networks the green light to uplink
from within the country beginning June 15.

Network executives were given word of the new policy by G.
Mankad, secretary of India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Networks that were given permission to uplink from India
include Sun TV, Asianet, Udaya TV, Cenadu TV, NEPC TV, Vijaya TV, BiTV, Shristi Video
Corp. and the now-defunct Jain TV. Foreign investments in any of those networks are no
more than 20 percent.

Networks with 20 percent or more of their equity held by
foreign investors must continue to uplink from outside of India until they agree to reduce
foreign ownership to the 20 percent mark.

Permitting domestic uplinking will enable the government to
stem the outflow of hard currency -- namely U.S. dollars. Networks currently pay millions
of U.S. dollars annually to uplink from Hong Kong and Singapore.

Domestic-uplinking services will be provided by Videsh
Sanchar Nigam Ltd., the government-owned international telecommunications and
satellite-transmission carrier, which has uplink facilities in the cities of Mumbai and
Chennai. VSNL has plans to build additional earth stations in Thiruvanthapuram and
Hyderabad to service networks operating from those cities.

Details of the switch to local uplinking are still being
worked out. Mankad has agreed in principle that VSNL's rates should be less than
those charged by uplink facilities abroad. But most networks believe that the discounts
will be small, because VSNL will still have to pay international satellite operators in
U.S. dollars.

However, an executive from Asianet said, "It will be
of advantage to us, because we will have to pay [VSNL] in [Indian] rupees. The daily
fluctuation of the dollar is hitting us terribly. This will stop."

The executive added, "Once uplinking has been
permitted, the next step will be to hire transponders on Indian satellites. This will
again be of great advantage to us, as hiring charges can also be paid in rupees."

Raghu Chidambi, Cenadu TV's representative here, said
a major cost advantage of uplinking will be the elimination of the "double-hop,"
or the need to uplink from India to an offshore earth station, only to have to uplink back
to India.

"This whole process ... was completely unnecessary.
Just avoiding a double-hop will save us $2.4 million annually," Chidambi said.

Indian-owned networks are also clamoring to be allowed to
set up their own earth stations. The MIB is studying the issue, and it has said that a
decision will be made at a later date.