Written evidence submitted by Rutland and Stamford Sound Community Interest Company
Are the provisions in the draft Bill sufficient to protect the identity and content of local radio?
As a not-for-profit community radio station, we welcome the fact that the draft Bill recognises the importance of radio as a source of local news and information. We regularly receive feedback that local radio plays a key role in increasing wellbeing, making people feel more connected with their local area and reducing feelings of isolation.
Rutland and Stamford Sound launched as an online station in March 2021. We were awarded a community digital sound programme (C-DSP) licence by OFCOM in August 2022. Despite this we remain unable to broadcast on traditional radio. Small-scale DAB (ssDAB) is not yet available in our area, the costs of joining local DAB multiplexes are prohibitive, and OFCOM is not currently issuing FM licences to new community stations. Even when ssDAB becomes available, we have serious concerns about its viability in rural areas, due to the number of transmitters required to provide a service of an acceptable standard. Given our reservations about ssDAB, we believe that FM will continue to be important in enabling people living in rural areas to access local radio, both in homes and in cars.
We support the wording in Clause 36 of the draft Bill “Licensing of local services” which removes the obligation for a competitive licence process for future FM licences and instead gives OFCOM the power to award them on demand. We appreciate that OFCOM faces resource constraints which make it difficult to advertise new FM licences at the same time as progressing with the roll out of ssDAB. We anticipate that providing OFCOM with more discretion will open up the opportunity for new local stations to apply for an FM licence, especially stations operating in low population rural areas with topography which is not well-suited to ssDAB. This has the potential to improve access to local news and information for significant numbers of people living in isolated communities.