Now that the Digital Economy Bill is known as the Digital Economy Act 2010, we wanted to clear a few points up on what exactly was passed on Thursday this week.
And as we were typing out our own version of events, RadioCentre's email to members popped in our inbox which covered everything pretty well, so, with their permission, here it is in full.
[b]How was the Digital Economy Act passed?[/b]
The Digital Economy Bill was introduced to parliament in the Queen’s Speech in November and spent several months being debated and scrutinised by the House of Lords. However, its final stages in the Commons were subject to the ‘wash up’ procedure, whereby legislation can be passed more quickly than normal once an election has been called, so that the valuable work that has gone into it is not lost.
Consequently, in the last two days the remaining parliamentary stages (which would normally take several weeks) were completed with the agreement of the main opposition parties.
[b]Is it true that there has been very little scrutiny of the Digital Economy Act?[/b]
Because of the circumstances of the Act’s passage, there have been criticisms that the process has lacked proper scrutiny. This view was heightened by the fact that the sections on unlawful file sharing made it unusually contentious.
However, the radio clauses in the Bill passed through these final stages fairly smoothly and were not amended. Despite the claims about the lack of scrutiny the radio clauses are the result of years of collaborative debate between industry, Government and Ofcom. Their genesis was the Future of Radio project in 2007 and development continued with the work of the Digital Radio Working Group, the Digital Britain Draft Report and finally the Digital Britain White Paper. In addition, they were rigorously scrutinised in the Lords over several months.
[b]When will digital switchover happen?[/b]
There are no deadlines or cut off dates stated in the legislation and no one is switching analogue radio off. What the Act will do, however, is give the Secretary of State the flexibility to set a date (or dates) for digital radio switchover once the key criteria are met (that 50% of listening is digital and digital coverage is comparable to FM). The earliest this could be is the end of 2015, and the Secretary of State would have to give at least two years notice.
Crucially, as we have stated throughout this process, although national and larger stations will move to digital, some local services will choose to remain on FM, which can be better suited to smaller and rural services.
[b]When will localness deregulation be implemented?[/b]
Ofcom has said that it would publish a statement on localness regulation ‘as soon as possible’ after the Digital Economy Bill passes. This is expected to include new localness guidelines and a more flexible approach to co-location and programme sharing. Precise timings are not clear but it is anticipated that stations should be able to take advantage of these changes within the next two months.
[b]Who will get licence renewals due to changes in the Act? [/b]
Stations with either INR or ILR licences that are broadcasting on digital may have their licences renewed on one occasion for a period of up to 7 years. In both cases Ofcom will determine the relevant date for the renewal to come into effect.
[b]How long will analogue only licences be when they are re-awarded?[/b]
Ofcom’s policy has been to issue analogue only licences for 5 years (or 2015, whichever is the longer). It is shortly expected to consult on reverting to a policy of awarding these licences for periods of 12 years, offering the prospect of greater certainty for stations on FM
[b]What's happening with the local multiplex re-plan?[/b]
The Government has asked Ofcom to lead a process to consider future spectrum planning requirements of digital radio, and make recommendations to Ministers. This process will focus on establishing the current levels of FM coverage and determining the most technically efficient way of matching digital coverage to FM. This work is expected to commence shortly.