Written evidence submitted by Alicia Kearns MP
Written Evidence for Media Bill Pre-Legislative Scrutiny
Are the provisions in the draft Bill sufficient to protect the identity and content of local radio?
As the Member of Parliament for the rural area of Rutland and Melton I have helped local radio stations lobby OFCOM for improved support. The barriers to getting new FM licenses are holding back rural stations, as the infrastructure for ssDAB is focused in urban areas, the costs of DAB multiplexes are too high and population scarcity makes the financial case for digital less appealing. A lack of existing digital infrastructure also makes the case for digital far weaker in rural settings.
Whilst I understand OFCOMS argument for prioritising digital nationally, the unique situation in rural areas means that FM will continue to play an important role in a rural context. As such, the system needs to be reformed to ensure new rural radio stations are not blocked from FM and permanently stuck on community digital sound programme (C-DSP- licenses.)
I have met with OFCOM to discuss the potential for new FM licenses but the legal requirement for a competitive license process means limited resources are directed towards the roll-out of ssDAb licenses, rather than FM. OFCOM told me that it would take an exceptional set of circumstances for any local radio station to be able to qualify for a new FM license.
The solution to this issue is to remove the obligation for a competitive license process for future FM licenses and allow OFCOM to award them on demand. This would be particularly valuable for new rural radio stations that are currently both unable to benefit from new technology and blocked from transmitting on FM.
Alicia Kearns MP
Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee