February 2021 Ofcom meeting

The Community Media Association has a virtual meeting with Ofcom in February. The main agenda items for Ofcom will be progress with SSDAB, analogue licensing issues, Key Commitments, and the Community Radio Fund.

The notes from the last meeting are available in the Chat Forum .

Please detail any specific additional issues that you would like the CMA to raise for discussion here.

The notes from the Ofcom meeting held in February are below and here (642.5 KB) :

CMA / Ofcom quarterly meeting: February 2021 - Notes

1. Matters arising from the last meeting

None

2. Update from Ofcom on SSDAB

There was a good response to the first licensing round with all 25 areas receiving applications - 25 applications submitted in total. There were a number of uncontested areas in which only one application received.

The Ofcom technical planning and licensing team is very busy processing applications working at full speed. Ofcom is a little disappointed with low number of community radio consortia applying as multiplex operator licence applications have come from commercial operators.

There has been a healthy interest in community digital sound programme service (C-DSP) licence applications with a number now awarded. licence C-DSP applications are posted on the Ofcom website here.

All small-scale multiplex applications and awards applications website (non-confidential sections) are posted to the Ofcom here.

The CMA is working to encourage more community radio application submissions. Jon Heasman has been invited to speak about SSDAB at the CMA AGM on 6th March.

3. CMA Feedback for Ofcom

The CMA provided some feedback from the sector about the past year.

  • What Ofcom did well

The work on the Community Radio Fund has been well received and timely - especially the recent unexpected third Round. Of course, overall, the sector requires more funding but it is not within Ofcom’s remit to set the level of the Community Radio Fund.

Communications throughout the pandemic have been good with the Notes to Broadcasters published in March, April, May, and November, the monthly Communications Monthly Update, the Broadcast Bulletins, and so on.

The sector appreciates the sensitive and pragmatic approach to regulating the delivery of community radio Key Commitments.

The information around small-scale DAB has been very good and there were the two online seminars in September.

  • What Ofcom could have done better or handled differently

Community radio licensees have pointed out that notification of licence extensions have been received rather late. The latest batch which were to expire around the end of 2020 appear to have only been notified in December. Response: Ofcom is aware of this issue and is deploying additional resources to address this.

The CMA has raised the issue of a more pragmatic approach to be taken with listener complaints which can frequently be of a vexatious nature. Response: Ofcom is duty-bound to consider every complaint received. Community radio stations could add a form to their website to try to initially deal with complaints locally.

There is no small amount of concern as to the future of analogue licensing which still remains a popular broadcast medium. It has been noted that there appears to be no provision in the Annual Work Plan 2021 for analogue licensing. Response: Ofcom’s priority is SSDAB which will enable more stations to get on air.

The roll-out of the new Annual Report via a web form created a number of difficulties that should have been discovered in testing. Response: Ofcom is aware of some technical issues and is considering returning to the spreadsheet format for the Annual Report.

Stations simulcasting on SSDAB were sent MI reporting documents twice in error. Response: Ofcom has noted this and it is recommended that stations can submit a nil return where appropriate.

4. 2021 Survey: Evidencing Community Radio Needs on FM

The CMA discussed the results of its short survey held Dec-Jan entitled “2020/21 Evidencing Community Radio Needs on FM”. 33 responses were received compared to 23 responses received last year for a similar survey.

Aside from reflecting some degree of interest in broadcasting on FM, the survey provided some useful insights into how the rollout of SSDAB is currently being viewed by some prospective C-DSP licensees.

32 responses indicated an interest in broadcasting on FM but reflected a broad range of preparedness.

Ofcom reiterated the position published in September 2019 as follows:

Licensing new community radio services

We are now moving on to processing the applications we received earlier in the year for new community radio licences. This will be the last round of community radio licensing on analogue (FM or AM) for the foreseeable future as we turn our attention towards the implementation of the licensing framework for small-scale DAB.

SSBAB is prioritised for the foreseeable future for a number of reasons including the fact that the platform is more spectrum efficient and can support a greater number of stations.

5. Supplementary questions from the sector

a) We received notification of our licence renewal with barely 3 weeks before expiry. More notice is required as this impacts on applying for funding, agreements with landlords and commercial contracts.

Ofcom is aware of the timely need to notify licensees of licence renewals. Covid-19 has impacted internal processes but this feedback has been taken on board and Ofcom is working towards giving licensees longer notice of licence renewal.

b) Can Ofcom ensure that licences for Round One SSDAB multiplex applications are announced by March/April to enable prospective services to launch in time for the critical end-of-year period?

The team working on small-scale DAB is processing SSDAB applications as quickly as possible and extra resources have been deployed to speed up the process as much as possible.

c) With community radio station licences being renewed for 5/10/15 years, the delivery of key commitments and service to a community can drift over time. Instead of investigating CR stations for breaches of Key Commitments, could Ofcom not take a more proactive approach and help to guide stations back towards their original course if it was considered that the station is drifting?

If community radio stations are struggling to meet their Key Commitments then it is suggested that the licensee requests to amend the Key Commitments to something more manageable. Additionally, during the pandemic, Ofcom has taken a pragmatic approach to the regulation of Key Commitments.

6. Community Radio Fund Update from Ofcom

A third round of funding from the Community Radio Fund opened on 18 December 2020 and closed at 5pm on 14 January 2021. The awarding Panel met in February 2021 to consider the applications and grant agreements will be sent out shortly [sent 12th February 2021].

7. Update from CMA: plans for 2021

The Radio Hub has a Legal & Compliance workshop on Saturday 27th March with radio consultant, Paul Chantler. Further workshop events are planned throughout the rest of the year.

The CMA is to hold its AGM on Saturday 6th March and Jon Heasman has agreed to give a short update on SSDAB licensing.

The CMA is undertaking some work to support SSDAB licence applications in partnership with a number of industry professionals.

Regarding the DCMS Digital Radio and Audio Review, the CMA is feeding into this process and has supported a DCMS Community Radio Listener Survey which received over 1,000 responses.

The CMA is planning to hold its annual Community Media Conference later in the year which is expected to be a hybrid of online and physical.

8. AOB

There was no other business.