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Parliamentary committee backs proposal to extend licences of national UK digital radio multiplexes

By | Published on Monday 21 March 2022


The UK Parliament’s Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee last week backed a government proposal that the companies operating the country’s two national digital radio networks have their current licences automatically extended by another twelve years.

Those national digital radio networks – or DAB ‘multiplexes’ if you prefer – are currently run by Digital One Ltd and Sound Digital Ltd, both of which operate under licences issued by the government. Any national station available in the UK via the digital audio broadcasting system is utilising one of those multiplexes.

However, the licence currently being used by Digital One is due to expire in November 2023 and, under the current rules, that means that media regulator OfCom should put that licence up for tender, so that Digital One would have to compete with any other companies interested in running the multiplex.

Last year the government’s Department Of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport noted that “there have been calls by some commercial operators for the government to consider allowing OfCom automatically to renew the national multiplex licences as this would provide the sector with certainty and support”. With that in mind, DCMS opened up a consultation allowing interested parties to input on that proposal.

Following that consultation, DCMS said that the “majority of respondents supported legislating to allow for an automatic renewal of licences, arguing that this would provide commercial radio broadcasters with certainty and stability for their businesses and the confidence to invest in digital services”. To that end, the government department is proposing to amend the UK’s Broadcasting Act to allow OfCom to automatically renew the Digital One licence.

Since last year, the BEIS Committee in Parliament has been responsible for scrutinising so called “regulatory and legislative reform orders”, which includes the proposal regarding the DAB multiplex licences. And so the committee recently did just that, considering all the pros and cons of the government seeking to amend the Broadcasting Act in this way. It then published a lengthy summary of those considerations on Friday.

The committee’s conclusion was that “a satisfactory case has been made in favour of the proposal” and therefore it recommends that “the draft order be approved using the affirmative resolution procedure”. Which is a formal way of shouting, “hey OfCom, get that Digital One licence extended!” Well, let’s get the law amended in order to allow that to be shouted, I guess.