ABS Free Dish, the free DTH service run by a Bermuda-based company of the same name, has shut down its signals over India.
The service used to quite popular in the southern and eastern parts of India as the only other free DTH service — DD Free Dish — was almost entirely focused on the Hindi-speaking North Indian market.
The company has not officially announced the shut down, and it is not clear whether it’s temporary or permanent (We have reached out to ABS, and shall update this article if and when they respond.)
Free DTH operators, who do not charge a subscription amount from end users, depend on the money paid by channels to meet their expenses.
However, the government of India has been trying to shut down the free DTH service in the country for non-payment of license fees.
According to Indian laws, any company that wants to offer DTH services in the country has to pay around Rs 10 cr to the government. They also have to pay around 10% of their total revenue every year as license fees.
That said, under international law, no country can stop any satellite operator from sending their signals into the country.
However, it is possible to prevent local companies, such as channel broadcasters, from doing deals with such firms, which would affect their revenue model.
It is also possible that the shutdown may be temporary, due to technical reasons.
The exit of ABS from the scene has left many South Indian viewers without a viable free DTH option.
The closest to ‘free DTH’ for South Indian audiences now remains the Reliance Big TV offer.
Under this scheme, customers can pay around Rs 2,250 and receive all the free-to-air channels on Reliance Big TV for 5 years.
As part of the offer, Reliance Big TV is also giving free access to all channels (paid as well as FTA) for the first year.
However, the platform has seen a lot of churn in terms of channels in recent months due to financial difficulties at its erstwhile parent, Reliance Communications.
The DTH arm of RCom was earlier this year acquired by investors led by Vijender Singh, who are in the process of relaunching the service.
Besides Reliance Digital TV, Dish TV too used to have a three-year FTA offer priced at Rs 1,149 in early 2017. It is not clear if the scheme is still valid or not.