DAB MULTIPLEX CHANGE REQUEST: CARDIFF & NEWPORT : Request to extend coverage area and change frequency of Cardiff & Newport local radio multiplex
- Start: 21 June 2013
- Status: Statement published
- End: 19 July 2013
A request from Now Digital (Southern) Limited ("Now Digital") to extend the coverage area of the local radio multiplex licence for Cardiff & Newport so that it also includes the Heads of the South Wales Valleys area, and also to change the frequency upon which the local radio multiplex service is provided, was approved by Ofcom on 25th July 2013.
This request was submitted by Now Digital in accordance with section 54A of the Broadcasting Act 1996 , as amended by the Digital Economy Act 2010 ("the 1996 Act"). These statutory provisions require Ofcom to consult on any such requests before it makes a decision, and so a public consultation was held between 21 June and 19 July.
Under section 54A of the 1996 Act, Ofcom may approve a request to extend the coverage area of a local radio multiplex service, and/or change the frequency of a local radio multiplex licence, only if, amongst other requirements which were met, it is satisfied that doing so would not unacceptably narrow the range of programmes available by way of local digital sound programme services to listeners in the area currently served by the local radio multiplex service in question (i.e. Cardiff & Newport, in this particular case).
As Now Digital's proposal would in fact increase the range of local digital sound programme services available in the Cardiff & Newport area (through the addition of Real Radio, Heart, Nation Radio and Nation Hits!), Ofcom was satisfied that this statutory criterion had been met.
Provided the request meets the terms of the statute, the decision whether or not to agree to the request is at Ofcom's discretion. Ofcom has published a general policy for exercising our section 54A powers. It includes that we are likely to grant requests to exercise those powers if we are satisfied these criteria are met:
- doing so would be calculated to maintain or promote the development of digital sound broadcasting in the UK otherwise than by satellite;
- the licensee's proposed coverage plans are satisfactory;
- the licensee has the ability to maintain the licensed service, and;
- there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect the rights and interests of stations carried on the multiplex and the rights and interests of other multiplex operators (and the stations they carry).
The underlying aim of the policy is that a sustainable local structure for DAB will be realised, allowing a migration to universal, local DAB transmission, with the consumer benefits of greater choice of, and competition in, services and the extension of those services into un-served areas, and the additional functionality on DAB. The RLC considered this and applied the policy criteria outlined above.
Where a request for a licence variation requires a change to the existing frequency, Ofcom's general policy is to approve such requests subject to the availability of a suitable alternative frequency and consideration of the knock-on implications to the frequencies of other multiplexes (and the stations they carry).
Ofcom was satisfied in relation to the first of the policy criteria set out above, on the grounds that Now Digital's request would ensure the continued provision of local DAB services in the Heads of the South Wales Valleys area after the cessation of the South Wales/Severn Estuary local multiplex service. In addition, the change of frequency is part of a revised frequency plan which is designed to enhance the coverage of local DAB services across the UK as a whole.
As to the second criterion, Now Digital proposed to provide coverage of the Heads of the South Wales Valleys area, and improve coverage of the existing licensed area, by changing one existing transmitter site (Wenallt to Wenvoe) and using four new transmitters, at each of Aberdare, Abergavenny, Ebbw Vale and Mendip. It further stated that all of these changes would be made on 30 July 2013, and that the combined effect would be to increase coverage of the Cardiff & Newport local radio multiplex service by more than 100,000 households.
On the basis that Now Digital's proposals would increase the overall coverage of the Cardiff & Newport multiplex, and would ensure continuity of service in the Heads of the South Wales Valleys area in the light of the forthcoming cessation of the South Wales/Severn Estuary multiplex service, Ofcom considered that the coverage plans were satisfactory.
Ofcom was also satisfied in relation to the licensee's ability to maintain the licensed service. In reaching this view, Ofcom took into account that Now Digital (together with associated subsidiaries) has been operating local radio multiplex services since 2000. The Now Digital companies together currently hold 18 of the 46 local radio multiplex licences in issue, and are supported on an ongoing basis by their parent company Arqiva, which continues to play a key role in the development of the DAB platform.
Finally, in considering the fourth criterion, Ofcom noted that no programme service providers on the Cardiff & Newport local radio multiplex responded to the consultation by indicating any compromise of their rights and interests, and welcomed the fact that some of the services which are currently carried on the South Wales/Severn Estuary local radio multiplex service have successfully negotiated carriage on the Cardiff & Newport multiplex.