MPs debate local digital radio in Parliament

A bill which would make it possible for more small radio stations to launch on digital radio has been debated by MPs.

It follows a report from the broadcasting regulator into the ‘small scale DAB’ trials which are being operated around the UK. Around 70 stations are still broadcasting on ten unique multiplexes from Brighton to Glasgow.

Digital radio multiplexes in the UK currently cater to national and local radio stations, covering areas the size of Teesside, Leeds or Kent. Smaller local radio stations and community radio stations typically cover a smaller area. The cost of broadcasting and capacity on multiplexes can make it difficult for these stations and new operators to launch on DAB. Up to 400 local commercial and community radio stations are not carried on DAB digital radio.

The Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Bill 2016-17 would make it possible for Ofcom to regulate small-scale multiplexes and hand out licences to operators.

As well as existing operators, new radio stations would be able to launch directly on to small scale DAB multiplexes. New stations could offer specialist music or other programmes in an alternative approach to community radio using FM.

The bill was first presented last summer by MP Kevin Foster and is supported by Government and the opposition. During the debate on Friday several MPs spoke about their local radio stations and own experience with digital radio.

Speaking for the Government, MP Matthew Hancock explained that should the bill proceed “our goal will be to have the system in place by early 2018 before the trials finish at the end of March 2018.”

The bill will now proceed to committee stage.