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Govt moves to block ABS Free Dish DTH service

ABS 2A is the company’s latest satellite

Government of India has moved to block the signals of ABS Free Dish, a free DTH service in India, but questions remain as to how practical the move is.

“Ministry of Home Affairs mentioned that the transmission of DTH service by ABS is without any application to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and not in line with the guidelines of Ministry of I&B (information and broadcasting). Keeping in view the national security angle, Ministry of I&B requested Department of Space (DOS) to block the signals of ABS which is beaming in India,” the I&B ministry said today.

The move is unprecedented in India as no foreign satellite beams have been blocked in the country before this.

India has thousands of satellite channels and services beaming into the country. While some of these use Government of India’s satellites like INSAT and GSAT, others use satellites owned by private companies such as NSS and SES.

Technically, any company anywhere in the world can beam their content into India using one of the dozens of channels that hover above the country in space.

So far, the government has been content to ignore such broadcasts. In some extreme cases, it ‘bans’ such broadcasts where it feels that the content of the channel(s) could create law and order problems.

As such, it has banned Saudi TV, Q TV, Peace TV, P TV, Geo TV etc.

Some of these banned channels are owned and operated by companies in Pakistan, while others are owned and operated by companies or regimes in the Middle East.

However, ‘banning’ these channels did not prevent anyone who wanted to watch these channels from doing so. The ban merely prevented law-abiding cable operators from carrying the channels.

As far as individuals are concerned, the ban was of limited use and it was very difficult to check if someone was watching these channels or not.

It was also not clear whether anyone found watching these channels using a dish antenna could be prosecuted under Indian laws.

ABS FREE DISH

The case of ABS is also largely similar. It is broadcast from the company’s own satellite located at 75 degree east meridian — roughly above Nashik in Maharashtra.

The company broadcasts its DTH channels without encryption and carries many popular Indian channels. It makes money from the channel owners, who pay a yearly fee to have their content distributed.

Blocking the company’s signal across India may prove difficult for the Department of Space as it would require very advanced technology.

Instead, the it could move to force ABS to pay DTH license fees to the government of India and emerge as a licensed operator.

If ABS fails to do so, the government could start forcing India-based channels to stop paying money to the company for having their content distributed. 

This would mean that ABS will end up with only foreign channels on its platform.

ABS is the second free DTH service in India and competes with Doordarshan Free Dish. However, the DD service has over 100 channels, while ABS has only around 70-80 channels.

The company’s signals are received using a regular DTH dish and an MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 Ku band satellite receiver.

A few days ago, the company started operating the ABS-2A satellite, also at 75 degrees east meridian, taking its total satellite count to 7.

It used to be owned by Citi Venture Capital and is now owned by Permira Funds based in Europe.

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