The proposed transition to (terrestrial) digital radio imply major risks and will probably not be profitable for the society.
The best choice is to retain the FM network, according to the national auditor Margareta Åberg.
In the March 23 concluded consultation round by the Ministry of Culture there were several decisive objections and thumbs down by qualified institutions to the proposal for a transition to DAB 2016-2022. Together with this subsequent independent analysis it is now probable that 20 years of efforts to introduce DAB in Sweden will come to a definite end. The extensive and critical report was this week presented to the Parliament by Riksrevisionen (The National Audit Office).
A short summary of the report:
1. The government is not properly prepared for a transition.
In spite of several inquiries and studies the government has not prepared a sufficient and solid case for a transition to digital radio. The government has not analyzed a transition from a wider cost perspective to society. The radio industry actors with their own interests in retaining terrestrial radio have to a large extent themselves been able to define the problems and to investigate and propose a possible transition.
2. Listeners’ perspective is lacking.
A risk with a transition to DAB+ is that the government will introduce a new standard for radio listening which is not asked for neither needed by the listeners. Replacing in-car radios will be a large and costly challenge as there will be 3,6 milllion cars without a DAB+ receiver 2022.
3. Technical assessments are inadequate.
There is a risk that the geographical coverage for DAB+ after closing the FM network is overestimated. Riksrevisionen says while it is important to maintain a broadcast network which does not depend on Internet or mobile broadband the FM network meets such demands. Being robust and in principle reaching all citizens it meets the emergency alert requirements
4. Economic aspects are ignored.
A transition to DAB+ is probably not economically profitable from a wider societal perspective even after 50 years of operation. To abandon the FM band and transfer to DAB+ implies that the government will leave a frequency space (Band II) without any alternative use, On the other hand Band III will have a high alternative value in the future (for television).
The audit is very extensive, starting in May 2014 in close cooperation with the official institutions involved in the digital radio process; the Ministry of Culture, the Telecom Authority, the Media Authority, Swedish public radio and the state owned broadcast provider Teracom. Interviews have also been made abroad; in Finland and Norway as well as with the EBU. Economic and technical experts from major universities have also been involved.
Christer Hederström is a Media Analyst in Stockholm, Sweden