Community radio in India

Randy Mays
Sat, 12 Sep 1998 20:33:17 -0400


    I'm forwarding your note to the AMRAD mailing list to see if one of our
members can help you.


Arun Mehta wrote:

> Hi,
> I'm a Net activist, among my areas of interest is how the Internet could be
> used by communities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to set up
> radio stations --bypassing governmental restrictions. I'm trying to obtain
> funding for such a study, see short note below. I'll be visiting Washington
> DC middle of October, possibly 17-18th (I've been invited as a panelist at
> a conference at MIT Boston on Internet Governance, 9-12 October). Are there
> people whom I could contact for help on technical questions? In particular,
> what would  radios as described below cost, and has anyone already
> developed such hardware?
> Sincerely,
> Arun Mehta
> P.S. To find out about me, please visit my home page, url in sig below.
> ____
> Introduction
> The Indian government has been almost paranoid in its control over the
> electronic media. While TV has enjoyed a modicum of private enterprise via
> satellite broadcasting, radio has almost totally remained in government
> hands. Some loosening of the government hold is expected in the forthcoming
> broadcasting bill, however, there are likely to be stringent regulations
> relating to ownership and content. Even after this bill comes into effect,
> NGOs will hardly be able to afford to set up radio stations with
> substantial reach.
> A new avenue has opened up for community radio, delivered via the Internet.
> Its advantages are global reach, low costs for the broadcaster, and freedom
> from government regulation. Its major disadvantage is that the listener
> needs access to a computer connected to the Internet.
> While the new Internet policy is expected to trigger massive private sector
> investment in the Internet, little of that money will flow towards rural
> areas in the normal course. This is because the Internet so far has by and
> large only been usable by people who know English, very few of whom can be
> found in villages. Internet radio has the potential to change that, as it
> does not require the ability to write, and is equally accessible to people
> speaking any language. However, for it to take off, it must be able to
> reach the masses, which cannot happen as long as each listener is expected
> to have a PC and a telephone.
> Recently, there has been some thinking on using the Internet for radio in a
> manner that makes such broadcasts available to the poor. These initiatives
> are based on a community information center, containing a PC connected to
> the Internet, from which audio signals are distributed using wires and/or
> wireless techniques. A study of these techniques and an assessment of the
> associated costs and benefits would encourage Internet Service Providers
> (ISPs) to take a closer look at rural communities as potential clients, and
> to invest in the additional hardware and software required to bring
> services such as Internet radio to them. In addition, this would encourage
> NGOs to make community radio part of their plans for disseminating
> information pertaining to literacy, health and other useful campaigns.
> The technology of Internet Radio
> Companies such as Real Networks ( have developed software that
> allows radio broadcasting via the Internet.  Radio player software, which
> allows Internet radio reception on any PC with a sound card, is available
> free of cost.  For production and distribution of radio programs, low-cost
> Real Audio server software has to be installed on a computer permanently
> connected to the Internet.  To listen to Internet radio, the listener has
> simply to log onto the Internet and run the Player software to connect to
> the Real Audio server.  If the software is properly set up, listening to
> Internet radio is in some ways simpler than listening to a conventional
> radio. Every week, over 145,000 hours of live sports, music, news and
> entertainment are broadcast in this manner over the Internet.
> However, the size of the Internet user population is only a small subset of
> the target population for a radio station. For community radio, this is an
> unacceptable limitation. The question therefore arises, as to how a radio
> broadcast arriving at a computer connected to the Internet (which we can
> call a relay station) could be propagated further.
> There are at least two ways to do this.  The output of the sound card on
> the computer can be fed to an amplifier, and distributed over ordinary
> copper wire to surrounding houses, each of which only needs a loudspeaker.
> This model is similar to that of Cable TV (though orders of magnitude
> cheaper) and thus may be called Cable Radio.  In addition, the new Internet
> Policy opens up another way to deliver sound to people without the means to
> afford a PC and an Internet connection.
> Internet connectivity is also possible using wireless modems, which could
> easily be used to broadcast Internet radio content to specially designed
> radios.  In this model, the relay station uses a wireless modem to
> rebroadcast the received radio signal, which "smart" radios that likewise
> contain a wireless modem can receive within a radius of a few km.  Such a
> smart radio, connected in this way to the Internet, would allow mobile
> access to at least hundreds of radio stations and almost unlimited audio
> content available via the Internet. It could allow villages a few
> kilometers apart to share a community information center, and yet have
> access to radio in each of the villages.
> Policy Issues
> Under the new policy, a provision has been made to allow spread spectrum
> broadcasts in the 2.4 - 2.483 GHz  band as 'public wireless,' which is
> crucial for the second solution discussed above to the 'last mile' problem.
> Unlike terrestrial radio, the Internet is unencumbered by draconian
> legislation such as the Indian Telegraph Act.  While international telecom
> is a monopoly of the VSNL, and national long-distance telecom is reserved
> for the DOT (both are state owned enterprises), no such limitation has been
> placed on the Internet.  The resulting competition in these areas is likely
> to result in significant reduction in the cost of Internet bandwidth.
> Unlike telecom and broadcasting companies, Internet Service Providers
> (ISPs) will not be required to pay any licence fees.  Cable TV operators
> and phone booth operators are also being encouraged to provide Internet
> services.  These provisions are likely to generate explosive growth in the
> Internet provision market leading to a rapid spread of Internet
> connectivity, with competition bringing prices down.
> Proposed Study
> The objectives of the study are:
> 1) To establish the feasibility of community radio distributed via the
> Internet, in a manner that allows access to poor people, and to work out
> the costs from the point of view of the broadcaster, distributor, and
> listener.
> 2) To assess the demand for community radio, given costs as above.
> 3) To highlight the benefits likely to accrue from taking such an approach.
> This would be a useful document for government in justifying further
> investment in telecommunications infrastructure, for ISPs to help them to
> cater to the rural sector, for NGOs seeking a cost-effective means to reach
> a large, poor and illiterate population, as well as to other countries
> facing a similar dilemma.
> Arun Mehta, B-69, Lajpat Nagar-I, New Delhi-110024. Phone 6841172, 6849103