The publication of the Digital Economy Bill today has divided the radio industry with some welcoming the proposals while others claim that the government is out of touch with radio's audience.
The Bill offers initiatives including granting of licence renewals to analogue stations also broadcasting on digital, effectively ending Ofcom’s current practice of only licensing stations until 2015; and greater operational freedom for local Commercial Radio stations.
Crucially, the Bill does not specify a date for digital radio upgrade, but instead allows the Secretary of State to set one or a number of dates for switchover.
Welcoming the Bill, Tim Davie, Director of Audio and Music, BBC, said: "It sets out a clear path to digital radio switchover and contains provisions that will help the radio industry face the future with confidence.”
Andrew Harrison, Chief Executive, Radio Centre, echoed these sentiments, adding: “We are particularly pleased that the Bill offers renewals of local and national licences for those committing to a digital future.”
Views not shared by members of UTV, the UKRD Group and TLRC who have banded together to rebut the Government’s proposals and call on the House Of Lords to reject the plans outlined in the Bill.
Scott Taunton, Managing Director, UTV Media, said: “What radio really needs is some meaningful deregulation and licensing reform to enable it to thrive and adapt in the multimedia age.
“The Digital Economy Bill shows that government is out of tune with listeners, who are delighted with the broad choice and accessibility that radio already offers.”
UTV, UKRD and TLRC are uniting to call for plans for the AM/FM switch off to be delayed until the consumer case is more compelling, and until all local radio stations have a guaranteed future on digital.
William Rogers, Chief Executive, UKRD and The Local Radio Company, asked: “Where is the fairness in a proposal to permit 100 per cent of the BBC’s local radio stations a digital future and deny over 100 local commercial radio stations the same opportunities?
“The Bill is fundamentally unfair and dishonest and I hope the Peers give it the going over it thoroughly deserves.”
Elsewhere though, the response across the board has been somewhat warmer, Andrew Harrison, Chief Executive of RadioCentre: “The digital radio upgrade is pivotal for the future of the radio industry and offers the prospect of greater choice for listeners, more interactivity and better functionality.
"The renewal of licences and greater operational flexibility for local services underpin this and will help to secure an exciting future for our industry.”
He was only one of many keen to announce their backing for the Bill. Travis Baxter, MD Radio, Bauer Media said: “We welcome renewal of analogue licences for those broadcasting on digital – this clarity will help to secure investment in digital going forward”.
While Ashley Tabor, Global’s Founder and Group CEO, said that the new plans will: “Allow radio to continue to compete in a digital age”.
While Stuart Taylor, CEO, GMG Radio commented: “The deregulatory elements for commercial radio are long overdue and will help secure a sound future for commercial radio in the UK”.