Ofcom Quarterly Meeting: November 2020 - Notes

1. Matters arising from the last meeting

None

2. Update from Ofcom on SSDAB

The licensing process is going well. Applications were invited from 1st September and are being received on a steady basis.

The stakeholder sessions recorded on 29th September are now online for reference.

Ofcom does not know how many applications for SSDAB will be received.

[Update: 45 applications were received by the deadline of 23rd November and some details of applicants are advertised on the Ofcom website. All areas received at least one application. Five applications were made for the Leeds multiplex and four for the one in Bradford. 10 applications for C-DSP licences are also published on the Ofcom website.]

Future updates will be published in the Ofcom’s Communications Monthly Update which is issued on the first Tuesday of every month.

3. Key Commitments and Force Majeure – Update from Ofcom

Regarding Key Commitments (KCs) and force majeure, Ofcom will write to broadcasters later in November [Update: Ofcom emailed licensees on 9th November 2020 (158.5 KB)].

Ofcom previously provided guidance to all broadcasters on 23 March, 27 April and 26 May 2020 to outline their regulatory approach in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ofcom recognises that each broadcaster may have individual queries depending on the nature of their service and specific circumstances. Ofcom encourages all broadcasters to proactively get in touch in case of issues.

In response to the pandemic, the UK broadcasting industry has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to adapt, collaborate and innovate to meet audience needs. As a result, many broadcasters have fulfilled the terms of their licence and foresee minimal ongoing issues. Ofcom commends the effort that has been made to deliver high-quality broadcast services.

Ofcom understands that some broadcasters may continue to face challenges for some time. This will depend on the nature of their service and how the pandemic has impacted their operations, particularly given variances in regional and national restrictions. However, it is arguably more important than ever that audiences can receive community radio services that reflect and represent our diverse communities, and provide accurate and duly impartial news in each local area or region.

To that end, Ofcom continues to expect all broadcasters to make every reasonable effort to meet the programming and production requirements set out in their licence.

It is recognised that it might be easier for some broadcasters to adapt to the challenging times than others. Ofcom will maintain a flexible approach on the payment of licensing fees and will assess each station’s situation on a case-by-case basis.

[Update: The letter that Ofcom sent on 9th November was drafted the weekend before the second national lockdown came into effect.]

Ofcom welcomes and encourages any community radio service to proactively contact them if they are experiencing any broadcast difficulties. Ofcom recognises the need to be flexible and responsive to the ongoing situation. If stations can provide Ofcom with relevant information in advance then it makes it easier for Ofcom to respond to any complaints about KCs that might be submitted by the listening public.

4. Finance Reports – new process

Ofcom is aware of a number of issues that CR stations had experienced with the new process for submitting finance reports. The website links had been tested by people who are perhaps more used to Microsoft Forms and who had not used the old system - so the issues did not come up in testing.

When Ofcom emailed out the link for submitting the Finance Reports, it appears that the system might have altered it. Therefore Ofcom has sent out a fresh link for stations to use. The link to the form should go to the licensee or compliance contact and stations should ensure that Ofcom is supplied with their up-to-date contact details. As of 5th November, there were still 25 stations outstanding with a deadline of 25th November.

The online form currently does not automatically provide a copy or receipt of submission. Licensees are advised to keep screenshots of their submission. Ofcom intends to keep the Annual Report system online as it fits in better with remote working and a distributed workforce. Also, there is less scope for errors of transcription if stations enter their own details online.

The Broadcast Licensing Team will contact the MI (Management Information) Team about those CR stations which also hold digital licences as there may have been some issues with double-reporting.

Regarding financial reporting, there are no plans to amend the Fixed Revenue Allowance which is set by DCMS. Ofcom will look at the figures relating to volunteer input which has not been updated since November 2015 as this will be required for the new tranche of C-DSP licensees.

5. Supplementary questions from the sector

a) Can the timetable for Ramadan RSLs be amended as it leaves little time to prepare the station and volunteers

It is very useful to have feedback from the sector about the Ramadan RSL schedule and its possible impact on applicant stations. Ofcom aims to issue licences 6-8 weeks before the broadcast date and this is the same policy for all RSLs. Ofcom is considering a review of the Ramadan RSL licensing timetable in the future but this is not an immediate priority and will be addressed at a future date.

b) Will there be a new round of analogue licensing

SSDAB is the current priority and many stakeholders are keen for this to progress as quickly as possible. However, a further round of analogue licensing has not been ruled out. However, a national round of FM licensing could take up to 2 years to complete and this work has to be balanced against the roll-out of SSDAB. It is still too early to predict the take-up and impact of SSDAB on the licensing process but the situation is under continual review.

c) Will the emergency RSLS be extended to areas of high risk of Covid-19?

The temporary Covid-19 RSL licensing process remains open for applications to be made.

[Update: An update to the temporary Covid-19 RSL licensing process was published on 12th November with regard to the different lockdown restrictions applying in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. These amendments also were published in Ofcom’s Radio broadcast update for December].

d) Will the SSDAB licensing process be extended due to the imposition of a new national lockdown?

At the time of the November Ofcom meeting, it was too early to say as the national lockdown had only just been imposed. It is recognised that the pandemic may have affected some applicants capacity to submit a licence application but a pragmatic decision had to be made to continue progress versus creating further delay with the SSDAB licensing process.

[Update: By the final 23rd November deadline, Ofcom received applications for all 25 areas that had invited applications and many areas received multiple applications].

e) Will Ofcom take a pragmatic approach regarding site assessment for SSDAB instead of requiring a full-site visit?

Applicants should look at what is asked in the application form as photographs and other supporting documentation may be submitted in the application.

f) Will there be any delay to the SSDAB process due to the lockdown and expected hit to the economy?

Ofcom asked prospective applicants for the first round of SSDAB licensing for their views - and a majority of applicants (about two-thirds) were in favour of continuing the licensing process. The situation is continually evolving and it cannot be predicted as to when things might return to a sense of normality and what that situation might look like - therefore Ofcom and prospective broadcasters have to adapt as best as possible to the prevailing situation. Applicants are encouraged to raise any concerns that they have with Ofcom. However, Ofcom is not keen to put the current SSDAB licensing process on hold.

g) Will there be a round of analogue licensing for South Bucks.

Please refer to the earlier answer on analogue licensing.

h) The complaints procedures require review and update.

Ofcom is aware that some complaints submitted to them can have a vexatious element but has a duty to investigate every complaint regardless of who submitted it. There are no immediate plans to review the complaints precedes.

Where licensees are away on vacation or are otherwise unavailable, the compliance procedures require that the licensee makes appropriate arrangements in advance to respond to communications from Ofcom. Ofcom granted a licensee a short extension recently to a licensee who was on holiday when a complaint was submitted. Ofcom can provide extensions and be flexible with licensees as circumstances dictate.

i) Can Ofcom provide more advance notification of licence renewals.

Licence renewals require a significant amount of work and are not just a simple rubber-stamping exercise. Ofcom sympathises with licensees who require timely notification of their licence renewal and is working to improve the process. However, Ofcom is curently meeting its obligations to notify licensees within the statutory requirements.

j) Type approval of SSDAB broadcast equipment.

Any radio transmitter must comply with the EU Radio Equipment Directive. Any RF equipment sold and used in Europe must be CE-marked. There can be problems with buying equipment online that may originate from outside Europe. With the standard radio transmission chain, it is usually the last stage that matters most and which must conform with technical standards - therefore there can be more flexibility of choice concerning devices higher up the chain. Transmitters tend to be standard off-the-shelf standards-compliant equipment which will be suitable for broadcast use.

6. Update from CMA: charity conversion, new Chair

The CMA advised Ofcom that it was progressing with its conversion to charity status and that Dom Chambers had been elected as the new Chair.

7. AOB

Ofcom’s Making Sense of Media media literacy research team will be asking for some feedback.

Relevant links: