Whenever a Channel 3 licensee or Channel 5 undergo a "change of control" Ofcom is required under sections 351 and 353 of the Communications Act 2003 to review the effects or likely effects of this on various matters listed in the Act. These include original productions, news, current affairs, regional production and in the case of Channel 3 regional programmes, employment in the regions and the quality and range of programmes made available by licensees to the network.
When the reviews are complete Ofcom must publish a report setting out its conclusions and any action it proposes to take to safeguard the position which existed before the change of control. The basis on which it can or must take such action is set out in sections 352 and 354 of the Act.
Ofcom’s intention is that any reduction in the spectrum available to DTT should not materially affect coverage or channel line-up or cause any significant disruption to viewers. While our preliminary planning work has indicated that this should be possible, there is at this time uncertainty over the final frequency plans that we will need to agree with our neighbouring countries. Given this uncertainty, we do not consider it would be appropriate for Ofcom to agree to any coverage extensions or to the use of additional frequencies for local TV services beyond 1 January 2018. This is the likely earliest date when frequency changes might commence. This would mean that where such requests are approved and granted following due consideration by Ofcom’s BLC, Comux’s respective Broadcasting Act and Wireless Telegraphy Act licences and the Technical Plan would be varied to include the additional frequencies and coverage until 1 January 2018 only. We will keep this position under review but expect to consider all requests consistent with this approach until such time as we have sufficient certainty over future frequency plans.
Accordingly, Ofcom has asked Comux and the relevant local licensees to confirm whether they still wish to proceed with their currently outstanding requests to Ofcom on the basis that any extensions of coverage or use of additional frequencies that may be approved by Ofcom would only be granted until 1 January 2018. Ofcom has also asked both parties to confirm that they would be committed to implementing the proposals on this basis.
From time to time, multiplex licensees will apply to Ofcom for permission to vary their licence conditions, for example when sharing capacity on a particular multiplex for a short while to cover a particular sports event.