Digital One Limited ("Digital One"), which holds a national radio multiplex licence for coverage of England, Scotland and Wales, applied to Ofcom to extend the coverage area of the licence so that it also includes Northern Ireland. After careful consideration of Digital One's application, and the responses received to the consultation on the matter, Ofcom has approved the request.
This request was submitted by Digital One 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 14 February and 14 March 2013.
Ofcom received 18 responses to the consultation, all of which apart from one were supportive of Digital One's request. The primary reason given by respondents for their support was that allowing Digital One to extend coverage of its national radio multiplex service to include Northern Ireland would give listeners there access to the same variety of national DAB radio services already available in the other parts of the United Kingdom. The one respondent who was opposed to the proposal was not content because Digital One's proposed coverage in certain parts of Northern Ireland outside of the Belfast area would not be as extensive as that in Belfast itself.
Unlike the case in respect of local radio multiplex licences, section 54A of the 1996 Act does not specify any particular criterion that must be satisfied in order for Ofcom to be able to approve a request to extend the coverage area of a national radio multiplex service. The decision is at Ofcom's discretion.
Ofcom has published a general policy for exercising our section 54A powers (PDF, 1.2 MB). It includes that we are likely to grant requests to exercise those powers if we are satisfied these criteria are met:
In relation to the first of these policy criteria, Ofcom considered that it was met. Digital One's request, if implemented, would have the effect of promoting the DAB platform in Northern Ireland by making available there the same variety of national DAB services already available in the other parts of the United Kingdom.
As to the second criterion, Digital One proposed to provide coverage of Northern Ireland using six transmitters, at each of Divis, Carnmoney Hill, Londonderry, Brougher Mountain, Strabane and Limavady. It further stated that these transmitters would provide robust 'indoor' coverage to 74% of households, and 70% of the main road network, in Northern Ireland.
Ofcom noted that the level of coverage in Northern Ireland being proposed by Digital One would be broadly similar to that which is currently provided by the local radio multiplex service for Northern Ireland, and considered that the proposal would result in the implementation of a cost-effective network at this stage of DAB's development. While the reduced level of coverage in some parts of Northern Ireland was noted, Ofcom recognised that this is likely to be improved in the coming years in line with the Government's radio switchover policy as set out in its Digital Radio Action Plan. As such, Ofcom considered that Digital One's proposed coverage plans were satisfactory.
With regard to the third criterion about the ability to maintain the licensed service, Ofcom took into account that Digital One has been operating the national radio multiplex service since 1999, and is supported on an ongoing basis by its parent company Arqiva, which continues to play a key role in the development of the DAB platform. On this basis, Ofcom considered that Digital One has the ability to maintain the licensed service.
Considering the fourth criterion, Ofcom noted that Digital One stated in its application that it had the support of its service providers, and took into account the fact that no programme service providers on the national radio multiplex service or any other radio multiplex service had responded to the consultation by indicating any compromise of their rights and interests. On these bases, Ofcom considered that this policy criterion was satisfied.