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Ofcom to extend small-scale DAB licences

Ofcom plans to extend the licences of trial DAB multiplexes, enabling community stations to stay on digital radio despite parliamentary delays.

Trials of small-scale DAB - providing low cost access to digital radio across a small geographical area - began in ten locations in 2015, including in Birmingham, Manchester, Norwich and Portsmouth. Small-scale DAB provides a viable platform for many community stations, for whom regular DAB broadcasts are too costly. But the multiplex licences, which have already been extended, are due to expire this year.

Last year, the Government passed through legislation that will allow existing and new small-scale DAB multiplexes to be licensed on a regular basis. But following delays to parliamentary processes, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has asked Ofcom to extend existing trial licences as a stop-gap until the new arrangements are in place.

By further extending the trials, these services will continue to be available to listeners. In addition to providing a digital outlet for community stations, the small-scale DAB multiplexes have also driven uptake of the newer DAB+ standard and provided a platform for a number of niche and specialist music stations.

Ofcom and DCMS say this extension will enable it "to continue gathering useful information from the trials, to help inform the development of a framework to enable small-scale DAB multiplexes and services to be licensed throughout the UK under a new licensing regime, on a non-trial basis."

All the current trial small-scale DAB multiplex licences will eventually be replaced by competitively awarded licences under the new licensing framework. Ofcom expects that interested parties will have the opportunity to apply for a small-scale DAB multiplex licence in 2019, depending on the timeframe of the new legislation. At that stage, all interested parties, including the current trial licensees and those not taking part in the trial, will be invited to apply and demonstrate how they think they meet the statutory criteria for this new framework.

Ofcom proposes to extend the trial licences until 31st March 2020, but with the option to terminate the licences at an earlier date in the event that a non-trial licence in the same area has been awarded and the service is ready to launch. During this period, no new trial licences will be awarded.