Decision on digital radio switchover likely in new BBC Charter period

A decision on whether or not there will be a digital radio switchover is likely to be taken by the government in the next Charter period. The new Charter period would be 11 years from the end of this year.

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport today released its white paper on the future of the BBC, titled ‘A BBC for the future: a broadcaster of distinction’. The current Charter is the constitutional basis for the BBC and expires at the end of 2016. The new Charter would see the licence fee continue, increasing in line with inflation until 2021/22. Funding for the BBC World Service will be protected for five years with previously announced extra government funding during this Parliament.

The BBC currently has four digital-only radio stations and the government expects that the BBC will “continue to support the transition from analogue to digital radio”.

The document explains that a decision about whether to proceed with a switchover to digital radio is “likely to be taken by the government at some point during the next Charter period.” But the DCMS says this is not a decision which can or should be taken now.

However, if a decision is made to proceed with a switchover, the government expects the BBC to “take a leading role”. It would also expect the BBC to expand its national DAB network to match its FM coverage, subject to value for money considerations, and for the BBC to work with commercial radio on the delivery of a switchover.

The document also calls on the BBC to ensure the most vulnerable listeners are not left without BBC radio services after a switchover.

During digital television switchover the Switchover Help Scheme was run by the BBC under agreement with the government. It helped older and disabled people switch to new digital equipment to ensure they were not disadvantaged after analogue transmissions ended.

The industry body for commercial radio is backing efforts to improve digital radio coverage so that it’s comparable with FM and supports the growth of digital radio within a system which also includes FM and online, but doesn’t list a full switchover among its priorities.