Community Audio Distribution Systems

12 September 2006

Executive summary

1.1 This statement sets out our policy in relation to Community Audio Distribution Systems (CADS) in light of the responses received to our recent consultation on this subject.

A permanent scheme for CADS

1.2 Given the widespread support for the proposal, and our belief that CADS and Citizens’ Band (CB) Radio users should be able to co-exist successfully in the relevant spectrum band, Ofcom intends to implement a permanent scheme for CADS as soon as is practicable.

Broadcasting Act licence exemption for CADS

1.3 During the CADS trial services have operated on a provisional basis, licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act (WTA) alone. However, having had the opportunity to conduct a detailed review of CADS, Ofcom concluded that these services are licensable under the broadcasting legislation and therefore should be licensed unless it is considered appropriate that they should be made licence-exempt.

1.4 Given the restricted nature of CADS services (-1-) and subject to suitable constraints regarding content being placed upon them (see Definition of CADS below), Ofcom believes that it would be appropriate to ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport to lay a Statutory Instrument before Parliament exempting CADS from the need to hold a Broadcasting Act (BA) licence.

1.5 Should the Secretary of State choose to pursue this option, the DCMS would first consult on a draft Statutory Instrument that would be laid before Parliament.

Definition of CADS

1.6 In the consultation we set out a definition of CADS that could potentially be used as the basis of a Statutory Instrument making this type of service BA licence-exempt.

1.7 Specifically, we recommended that CADS:

  • would be available for the purpose of the live onward transmission of a community event only (for example, an act of worship, a council meeting, a community play or a call to prayer);
  • may not carry commercial messages of any kind;
  • are for intermittent use and only available for public consumption to a geographically local area, on a ‘reasonable endeavours’ basis, by means of Citizens’ Band Radio equipment. (-2-)

1.8 Given the widespread support for the proposal, we believe that this definition for CADS would form a suitable basis for a Statutory Instrument making this type of service exempt from the need to hold a BA licence.

1.9 It should be noted that our proposed definition is a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport only. The exact nature of BA licence-exempt CADS services would be determined by a Statutory Instrument allowing for that exemption, and could well differ from our recommended definition.

Technical aspects of CADS

1.10 While we acknowledge the issues raised in relation to the proposed technical specifications for CADS (notably regarding access to spectrum and restrictions on transmission arrangements), we believe that our proposals would deliver a simple to use system that would give both CADS and standard CB Radio users access to spectrum on a fair and equitable basis. For this reason we plan to adopt the technical characteristics set out in our consultation and to continue to recommend that a Statutory Order exempting CADS from the need to hold a BA licence should restrict these services to use of an antenna of no greater height than ten metres above ground level and to retransmit community events for no more than four hours in a twenty-four hour period.

Costs and Administration

1.11 The consultation noted several cost and administrative factors which would affect CADS services if the proposals were implemented.

1.12 This policy statement includes a brief update on these matters, including the current position with regard to Ofcom’s plans to make all CB Radio use WTA licence-exempt and the decision not to introduce a ‘registration for life’ scheme for CADS services if they are made both BA and WTA licence-exempt. It also notes that if the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport does not decide to ask Parliament to make CADS BA licence-exempt or if the proposed Statutory Instrument is rejected by Parliament, Ofcom would license CADS under the Broadcasting Act 1990 (as amended).

Footnotes:

1.- CADS are tightly restricted in terms of the coverage they can achieve because of the frequencies they employ, the basis upon which these frequencies may be used, and the specialist equipment needed to use them; and the likelihood of accidentally hearing a CADS service is low by virtue of the relatively low levels of usage of the spectrum assigned to CB Radio and the small coverage area achievable (between two to three kilometres radius, depending on terrain) for these types of service.

2.- By ‘live onward transmission’ we mean the simultaneous transmission of the community event with no additional editorial content or production. By ‘community event’ we mean any collective event to which members of the public are invited or have open access should they desire it, and which would take place regardless of whether it was being transmitted by means of wireless telegraphy. By ‘intermittent use’ we mean transmission on any available frequency for a maximum of four hours (which may be non-consecutive) within a twenty-four hour period. By ‘reasonable endeavours’ we mean that, like standard CB Radio users, CADS would have access to the spectrum allocated for users of CB Radio equipment on a secondary basis to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and that frequencies would be used on a first come, first served basis rather than being pre-assigned and protected. Further, the use of this spectrum would be based on the understanding that as a secondary user CADS should not cause interference to military radio services, would be subject to incoming interference from the MoD, and that if the MoD requires the use of any CB Radio channel at any location it may do so at any time without prior notice.

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