Small-scale digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is an innovative technology designed to allow local stations to achieve affordable transmission on digital radio.
The Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Act 2017 (“2017 Act”) made provision for the licensing and regulation of small scale radio multiplex services. Specifically, it allowed for the introduction of secondary legislation which would apply certain provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1996 and/or Communications Act 2003, with appropriate modifications, to small scale radio multiplexes. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) is now working on this secondary legislation, and earlier in 2018 carried out a consultation on the core elements of a new licensing approach.
In parallel with DCMS’s consultation, and without prejudice to its outcomes, Ofcom carried out preparatory work, so we will be in a position to proceed promptly if and when the Government introduces the necessary secondary legislation. This includes looking at frequency planning options. To inform this technical planning work and the subsequent licensing process, Ofcom sought expressions of interest from parties wanting to operate small scale DAB multiplexes and/or who are interested in providing services on these future multiplexes. See the responses Ofcom received.
In 2015, Ofcom licensed and co-ordinated a trial with a new approach to DAB radio broadcasting which we are calling small-scale DAB.
Ten trial licences were awarded (PDF, 58.5 KB) to parties in different areas who wanted to operate a small-scale DAB multiplex. The trial multiplexes cover a relatively small geographical area compared to local and national DAB multiplexes. The small-scale DAB trials keep costs low by making use of relatively inexpensive transmission equipment and the freely available ‘open-source’ software. See the results of the trials.
Ofcom has proposed to further extend the licences of the ten trial small-scale DAB multiplexes. The trials, which started in 2015, have proved to be successful. There are currently around 150 community and small commercial radio services broadcasting digitally on the ten trial multiplexes. By further extending the trials, these radio services will continue to be available to listeners. Ofcom will also be able to continue gathering useful information from the trials, to help inform the development of a framework to enable small-scale DAB multiplexes and services to be licensed throughout the UK under a new licensing regime, on a non-trial basis.
All the current trial small-scale DAB multiplex licences will eventually be replaced by competitively awarded licences under the new licensing framework. We expect that interested parties will have the opportunity to apply for a small-scale DAB multiplex licence in 2019, depending on the timeframe of the new legislation. At that stage, all interested parties, including the current trial licensees and those not taking part in the trial, will be invited to apply and demonstrate how they think they meet the statutory criteria for this new framework.
Ofcom proposes to extend the trial licences until 31 March 2020, but with the option to terminate the licences at an earlier date in the event that a non-trial licence in the same area has been awarded and the service is ready to launch. During this period, no new trial licences will be awarded.
Ofcom has started the licence variation process with the individual trial multiplex licensees. Their current licences will expire between 30 April and 29 August 2018 if they are not extended. There is no new funding from Government or Ofcom to support trial licensees with ongoing running costs.
If you have any questions, please contact smallscaleDAB@ofcom.org.uk.
Ofcom is proposing to extend the trial of the small scale digital radio multiplexes for two years. This follows the success of the trial which has enabled 85 smaller radio stations, such as community radio stations, to broadcast on DAB digital radio. Ofcom wishes to continue to monitor the longer-term performance of this approach, while we develop a framework to enable services to be licensed throughout the UK on a non-trial basis.
There are 10 small scale trial digital radio multiplexes around the UK, and their licences were awarded in June 2015 for a nine-month period.
Ofcom would like to extend the ten trial licences for a maximum of a further two years, and will now begin the licence variation process with the individual multiplex licensees. We will keep the trial under review, given our longer-term programme of work around licensing, but do not intend to award any additional trial multiplex licences.
Below you will find documents relating to the ongoing small scale DAB multiplex trials, including previous application documents, and a statement setting out the reasons for the award of ten trial licences. If you have any questions, please contact smallscaleDAB@ofcom.org.uk.