Innovative new spectrum and licensing approach to support more local radio services

More local radio services could take to the airwaves under Ofcom plans for a more flexible and efficient approach to licensing and spectrum allocation for ‘restricted’ radio services.

Restricted services have small coverage areas and are often used to broadcast at events, or within a particular establishment. They include hospital radio, drive-in movie soundtracks and commentary for outdoor events such as air shows. They also include radio services for religious observances such as Ramadan.

Restricted services mainly broadcast in the AM and FM broadcasting bands, but there are not always sufficient frequencies available to meet demand. And interest in these services has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for drive-in events.

To better meet the demand, Ofcom has developed an innovative new method of spectrum planning that enables them to identify small gaps in spectrum use – between existing broadcast radio services in the FM band. Ofcom refers to these gaps as ‘limited coverage spectrum’. Because of the limited coverage that can be achieved using this spectrum, it is not suitable for national, local, and community radio broadcasts, but is particularly suited for restricted service broadcasts.

Ofcom intends to make more efficient use of the limited coverage spectrum to increase the overall spectrum resource available for restricted radio services. This should provide opportunities for more of these types of services to be licensed in the future.

Ofcom also wants to simplify our licensing approach for restricted services and to make the application process more straightforward.

In summary, Ofcom is proposing to:

  • allocate suitable 'limited coverage spectrum’ where available, to low-power restricted services;
  • move existing low-power restricted service licensees to a limited coverage frequency, where one is available, on renewal of their licences;
  • invite the Secretary of State to consider making an order under the Broadcasting Act 1990 to provide an exception for ADSRSLs and some similar emerging services from the requirement to hold a Broadcasting Act licence;
  • simplify the restricted service fees regime; and
  • make administrative changes to the application process and guidance notes.

Ofcom is inviting feedback on our proposals by 5pm on 9 May 2022 and intends to publish a final decision in Summer 2022.

The CMA has a survey form here about the Ofcom consultation: