Ofcom Statement: Licensing small-scale DAB – how Ofcom will exercise its new functions

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Small-scale DAB is a new way of transmitting digital radio that uses advances in software and low-cost computer technology to provide a flexible and inexpensive approach to the terrestrial broadcast of digital radio services to a relatively small geographic area.

Ofcom has now published its statement that sets out how small-scale DAB will be licensed using the powers that Government has established under the Small-scale Radio Multiplex and Community Digital Radio Order 2019. Ofcom’s conclusions follow the consideration of responses to the consultation we ran on small-scale DAB licensing between July and October 2019.

Ofcom’s key decisions are as follows:

Ofcom believes that small-scale DAB represents an appropriate use of spectrum, meeting demonstrable demand from community radio, smaller commercial radio stations and new entrants for an affordable pathway to terrestrial digital radio. This, in turn, will help to ensure the continued availability of a diverse range of radio services across the United Kingdom, on a platform which accounts for an increasing amount of radio listening.

We will advertise licences for small-scale DAB in batches – two of the batches will each consist of licences for services in a specified region of the UK, due to a lack of sufficient suitable spectrum in these areas. The other batches will comprise licences for services in different parts of the UK, selected having regard to eight specified factors which are set out in this statement. Applications for the new Community Digital Sound Programme (‘C-DSP’) licences will open at the same time as the publication of multiplex licence advertisements.

We will keep under review the uptake of small-scale radio multiplex licences and, should spectrum resources allow, we will then consider whether to advertise additional local radio multiplexes, where there is demand.

We have decided, in line with the legislative intent and for all the small-scale multiplex licences we advertise, to apply the 40% limit on population of a local multiplex that can be covered by an overlapping small-scale multiplex (or by multiplexes with the same licensee).

We will now not be requiring all programme services carried by small-scale radio multiplex services to be broadcast using the DAB+ standard, as we had proposed in the consultation.

The ‘Key Commitments’ of C-DSP licensees will focus principally on the provision of ‘social gain’, accountability to the target community, and the ability of members of that community to participate in the service. Relative to analogue community radio, the Key Commitments will focus less on specific programming requirements.

As also proposed in the consultation, we will require that the main studio of a C-DSP service is located within the coverage area of the small-scale radio multiplex service upon which the C-DSP service is provided.

And most importantly:

In light of the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and the impact it will be having on stakeholders, at this stage we have decided not to specify a date when we will publish the first licence advertisements, application forms and accompanying Notes of Guidance. We will keep the situation under review, and commence the licensing programme when a majority of relevant stakeholders (in particular, prospective applicants for small-scale radio multiplex and/or C-DSP licences) consider that they would be able to participate fully in the licensing process.

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Thank you @nigel.dallard - we’ll keep an eye on that.

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