Responses to Public Notice on Low Power FM (15 May 2023 deadline)

GoI has released a public consultation paper on LPFM. It is divided into sections, each of which elicit some enumerated issues for response.

The following are the preliminary points to which responses are invited.

  1. Should the use of low power small range FM Radio broadcasting by various entities be licensed or unlicensed? Please provide your comments with detailed justification.
  2. In case use of low power small range FM Radio is licensed, whether there is a need for the introduction of a new category of service provider for using low power small range FM Radio broadcasting? Please provide your comments with detailed justification.
  3. Should the low power Radio equipment continue to be subjected to type approval by WPC?
    a. If yes, do the current technical specifications / approval process require any amendment/ modification/simplification?
    b. If not, please suggest as to how to ensure quality standards for the equipment and users of low power FM services.
  4. In case stakeholders consider that license is necessary for low power small range FM broadcasting, what should be the:
    (a) Eligibility criteria
    (b) Period of License
    (c) Entry Fee
    (d) License Fee
    (e) Area of operation
    (f) Allocation of Spectrum
    (g) Technical parameters
    (h) Any additional terms and conditions governing such licenses.
  5. Whether some specific frequencies in the existing FM band can be dedicated for low power FM Radio broadcasting? Please provide details with justification.
  6. What should be the licensed area of frequency assignment- location-wise (Stadium, Auditorium, Malls, Residential complex etc.) or city-wise. Please provide details with justification.
  7. What should be the maximum power of a low power small range FM transmitter? Please provide your inputs with detailed justification.


  1. The points raised are based on detailed notes prepared by the Ministry. It should be noted, however, that the background notes completely ignore the practice of LPFM used in India between the time the Supreme Court order of 1995 declared the airwaves were public property and the presentation of a Bill (2003) that effectively barred the use of FM at any emissive power range, including that of an already operating community radio station.
  2. The notes also indicate that the present consultation is aimed at creating a special window for use by purely commercial operations.
  3. The above points make it clear to actual experienced radio users that the ‘consultation’ is designed in such a manner that it will endorse and create a commercially driven fencing around public airwaves, so that those commercial interests will ensure that any citizen-facing usage of this public property is made financially risky, apart from illegal.

This conversation will be used to generate a consultative response from public-minded radio technology and civil society radio supporters to the TRAI call.

Independent village level, community driven spoken (and sung) content broadcasting began in India, using very basic technology built for and with the assistance of a women’s self-help group, using LPFM. The Centre stepped in and shut it down through police action, ignoring a standing SC order that declared, in essence, that the airwaves are public property.

Twenty years later, this kind of bottom upward drive and innovation is now almost completely absent, an opportunity loss whose impact reverberates across the country, with unemployment and underemployment at a record high, and a far greater size of population being affected. According to some globally published figures, this under- and unemployment is the largest single country population in the world, and is a staggering percentage of the Indian population. What is worse, in both percentage and absolute numbers, it is growing year-on-year.

The reach of LPFM is overwhelmingly local, by definition, and by the science of microwave EMF dissemination. Burdening such a rich activity with licensing, a heavy facet of government, adds no discernible value, and takes away far more. Whatever supervisory needs might emerge, once actual proliferation and innovation of this very basic technology takes place, and is, as it should be allowed to, develop locally, ought to be allowed to evolve at the mohalla, panchayat or clubhouse level.

Participants need to be encouraged to share their experiences openly, without fearing discouraging and remote third-party oversight. Once a body of such experience is generated, some years down the line, the question of the manner of licensing might emerge, or it may not be necessary.

According to the TRAI note, the need for this question arises because one commercial organisation wants to use the technology for commercial purposes involving private parking areas for personal motor vehicles. The entity in question, a giant operator, can certainly do so, provided no concessions of land usage are involved, and provided the specific technology used is allowed to be shared and used freely for community-driven civic developments of broad social value.

This raises a separate issue, which has not been addressed directly in the TRAI note, and is a glaring omission. Across the world, and also in India, the technology has been and is being used in multiple locations in order to optimise (and significantly curtail) the consumption of electrical energy to amplify and disseminate audio.

Again, there is a standing Supreme Court order on the control of noise pollution, particularly in urban areas, but which is largely ignored because some of the regular producers of such nuisances are religious and quasi-religious (mostly, festive, particularly for weddings) gatherings. Rather, the noise pollution laws are used to restrict music gatherings, especially in open air concert grounds. Such restrictions are fertile grounds for anti-social rent-seeking behaviour, for the benefit of commercial interests, and the attendant misuse of laws is by public officials for private benefit.

However, since the audio bandwidth inherent in LPFM favours pleasant sound experiences, it is widely used to manage ‘distributed’ sound, using large numbers of low-volume sound emitters to produce highly localised sound. It has been used, to great acclaim, for very prestigious concerts in India, attended by thousands of people.

LPFM has been treated as banned for 20 years, but is, reportedly, regularly used for sound delivery to personal headphones at private concerts, since it is then close to impossible to detect. However, such concerts are much easier to observe, even without loud sound, since they involve hundreds and even thousands of audience members. Obviously, the ban has been a spur for more antisocial rent-seeking behaviour, which is for obvious reasons not recorded in criminal proceedings. Not surprisingly, the state-sponsored TRAI note also ignores this very well known activity.

For this reason, releasing LPFM from such centralised oversight as licensing will encourage and leverage more use, and more innovation, for all kinds of public audio events, whether in private grounds or on the streets, significantly reducing the kind of public nuisance caused by cheap low-quality loudspeakers. Such events may also encompass all other kinds of audio usage, be it public addresses or music/dance/theatre staging.