Connect breached licence by coming off DAB



Ofcom has found local radio station Connect FM in breach of its licence after falling off DAB at the start of the year.

The station's two FM licences were renewed by Ofcom in 2013 and 2015 on the basis of continuing availability on DAB digital radio, but a contractual dispute between the broadcaster and multiplex operator Now Digital led to the station going FM only at the start of the year.

Connect Radio, which broadcasts as Connect FM across the Northamptonshire and Peterborough area, found that once its DAB carriage contract ran out at the end of 2017, it would have to pay higher fees under a new contract.

As part of an Ofcom investigation, the station said the increased costs were financially unsustainable. As a result of no deal being reached, Now Digital terminated transmission of Connect FM on the Northamptonshire and Peterborough local DAB multiplexes on 31st December 2017.

After Ofcom started investigating, carriage of Connect FM was restored to the two areas on 1st September 2018.

Now Ofcom has confirmed that it considers the broadcaster was in breach of its Condition 2A of its licence, which requires a broadcaster to do all it can to be available on digital radio.

In a statement issued today, the regulator said:
We understood the Licensee’s position to be that it was not financially sustainable for it to stay on the DAB platform at the increased fee rate, given it had been making a loss since acquisition of the Licences.
However, we also understood that Stockvale has been underwriting its [Connect Radio's] losses until now, and that in its accounts for the period ending December 2017, Stockvale had a turnover of £14.7 million and made a profit of £1.4 million.
In these circumstances, we were not convinced that it would in fact be financially unsustainable for Connect Radio to continue broadcasting on the two local multiplexes. Further, as noted above, the requirement to maintain a digital service broadcast on the local multiplex arises from the relevant statutory scheme, which has the objective of promoting the take-up of digital radio. This objective would not be furthered if Connect Radio were able to cease providing a digital service in anything other than exceptional circumstances that are outside the licensee’s control. In this case and in these particular circumstances, we are not satisfied that the increase in fees for the relevant multiplexes constituted such exceptional circumstances."
Although the Connect FM digital service is now back on the Northamptonshire and Peterborough multiplexes, it was off-air for eight months. By failing to ensure that the Connect FM digital service was broadcast on the Northamptonshire and Peterborough multiplexes from 1 January to 1 September 2018, our view is that Connect Radio breached Condition 2A of the Licences during that period."





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