A consultation has been launched by the government to see if it should give Ofcom the power to auto-renew the two national digital radio multiplexes.
Under existing broadcasting legislation, Ofcom needs to offer the licence currently held by Digital One Limited (which expires in November 2023) through an open competition, to be completed by summer 2022.
The same would need to happen for the Sound Digital Ltd multiplex which expires in March 2028.
Ofcom says there have been calls by some commercial operators for the government to consider allowing Ofcom automatically to renew the national multiplex licences to provide the sector with certainty and support.
The government has published a consultation to help inform its decision about the approach to the future relicensing of the two national commercial radio multiplex licences.
A statement from the government says: “We are seeking views on whether to legislate to allow for a renewal of licences (and if so, on the benefits and disadvantages of varying the length of extension of the two licences to align their expiry dates), or whether it would be better for Ofcom to re advertise the national commercial digital radio multiplex licences ahead of their 2023 / 2028 expiry dates via an open competition.
“Our overall ambition is to ensure that the relicensing process for these national radio multiplexes works in the best interests of the commercial radio industry and audiences across the UK.”
The options are:
Option 1 (do nothing): allow the two national radio multiplex licences to expire and be re-advertised through an open competition for a 12 year period by Ofcom in accordance with the existing legislation;
Option 2: amend the Broadcasting Act 1996 to allow a 12 year renewal for the licence currently held by Digital One Limited and a shorter 7 year renewal for the licence currently held by Sound Digital Limited, to align both expiry dates to a common December 2035 date;
Option 3: amend the Broadcasting Act 1996 to allow a shorter 7 year renewal for the licence currently held by Digital One Limited and a 2 year renewal for the licence currently held by Sound Digital Limited, to align both with the expiry dates of the local DAB multiplex licences in December 2030.