Digital Radio Mondiale – written evidence (DAD0015)

 

We in the global not-for profit Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM) Consortium* welcome the examination and report on the impact of digital technologies on the democratic processes in the country.

 

While this call for evidence will perhaps automatically point towards IP and social media, our contention is that radio has always been a great aggregator and influencer of the national political discourse and, therefore, digital radio should be fully included in this examination.

 

We consider that digital radio, as an integrator of audio, video and internet information with the possibility of allowing immediate reaction and participation through publicised mobile and IP addresses, has a crucial and positive role to play in deepening democracy.

 

In this context we would like to make the case for digital radio, but not just for DAB, the standard supported and introduced at great cost and at slow speed in the UK over the last 20 odd years. We would urge you to consider afresh and with an open mind in your deliberations all the possible solutions, including the only all frequencies, efficient, open digital standard, the Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).

 

In tandem with DAB (for Band III only), DRM for all frequency bands and areas not covered at present by DAB would offer a strong, unique, comprehensive platform that would be available and affordable for all the UK citizens, whether they live in the big cities or on far away Scottish islands or less populated Welsh valleys.

 

With only 38.3% of digital listening delivered by DAB, and relatively small figures for apps (10%) and TV (5%), it is clear that DRM has a big role to play. After all, DRM can digitise efficiently FM, longwave, shortwave and mediumwave. One of the most popular national radio programmes is BBC Radio5 Live on mediumwave and DAB+ cannot replicate its current reach. With DRM in mediumwave this would be easily possible.

DRM and its sister open standards DAB/DAB+ have been developed by roughly the same engineers in the UK, France, US and Germany and are complementary, as together they could offer audio and data covering 100% of the country. 

However, DAB is only used in the VHF band III.  It was first rolled out in the UK in 1995 and is quite successful in many parts of the UK but not everywhere. DAB is a standard devised mainly for major players and not for the small commercial and community stations or sparsely populated areas. Small scale DAB trials are continuing, and licenses are being requested. Fundamentally, (even small-scale) DAB+ multiplexes are not spectrum efficient and do not offer the level of localism and differentiation that is the mark of a vibrant and diverse radio offer, engaging equally and comprehensively all listeners at national and local level.

DRM works very efficiently in all the radio spectrum bands (also used in the UK) without using the multiplex solution:

The configuration for the AM bands is intended for broadcasts on short, medium and long wave up to 30 MHz and offering FM like quality sound over large territories within a country. With only a few AM DRM digital transmitters the coverage of an entire country is possible.  In addition, it offers more programme choice, as three audio programmes and one data channel can be used on one single frequency (compared to analogue today with just one programme).

The configuration for the VHF bands above 30 MHz is tailored for local (cities) and regional coverage with broadcaster-controlled transmissions. As in digital AM, the VHF solution also offers three audio programmes and one data channel on one VHF frequency, instead of one programme in analogue today.

DRM is being used successfully by the BBC World Service. It is being rolled out in India as the standard of choice (DRM signals are already available to 600 million people). In India there are over 1.5 million cars that have been sold in the past 18 months with DRM receivers incorporated and at no cost to the buyers at all. (Incidentally, all major car manufacturers have a DRM solution which is often a software update away). Chipsets to produce DAB/DRM receivers, whether for cars or home, exist today.

A DAB-DRM solution would offer the following practical advantages to strengthen a healthy, active, digitally literate democracy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion we think that democracy in an integrated, convergent advance technological society could be enhanced by a few visionary decisions:

  1. Recommend digital radio as a main platform for enhancing and deepening democracy in the country. DRM could easily complement DAB and ensure full coverage of the entire country including Scotland and Wales supporting OFCOM and broadcasters, like the BBC, in relaying a rich content bouquet (audio and visual) to the remotest parts of the UK and providing equal access for all.
     
  2. Chipsets and modules supporting both DRM and DAB standards exist already, as do receivers. And it would be a pity if old entrenched ideas, narrow commercial interests were to impede the adoption of new solutions. After all the aim of any review and political decision must be to future-proof radio in the UK and ensure its digital future (no matter which platforms and technologies will be deployed) strengthening the democratic benefits this brings to all UK listeners/citizens.
     
  3. Enforcing the role of radio in the pursuit of genuine democracy would offer another counterweight to “false and quick news”, adding a dose of thought and real engagement on the part of the citizens.
     
  4. Use digital/visual radio as a way of curating best internet and social media information and reactions (RSS feeds can be put on the wider digital screens)
     
  5. Create a digital radio parliamentary channel with regional and local opt-outs, giving every listener a chance to be part of the “UK townhall debate”
     
  6. Support digital radio and not one digital radio technology” for the UK and make receivers with wide screen available to schools, hospitals, communities all over the country

We would be very happy to make presentations, answer questions, demonstrate the advantages of DRM, its versality and suitability and contribution to an enhanced, healthy UK democracy.

* Digital Radio Mondiale™ (DRM) standard is the global, all frequency broadcasting bands, green, cost and spectrum efficient, and openly standardised digital broadcasting system. DRM is the complete, internationally recognised solution for digitising radio recommended by both international organisations such as ITU and ETSI.

The main objective of the DRM Consortium is to make the global and open DRM digital radio standard accepted and used at local, regional, national and international level (more details at our website: www.drm.org).

The DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) Consortium is an international not-for-profit organisation made up of over 100 members, including broadcasters (BBC – broadcasting externally in DRM, too, Radio France, All India Radio, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Republik Indonesia, Voice of Nigeria etc.), network providers (Encompass Media Services in the UK, Sentech in South Africa, BECIL in India), transmitter and receiver manufacturers (Ampegon, Nautel, RFmondial, Communications Systems Inc.), universities, broadcasting unions and research Institutes (such as Fraunhofer IIS in Germany, the Technical University Budapest), and many more.

 

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