Tuesday 2 December 2014

Proposal for a Transition to DAB+ Meets Widespread Doubt in Sweden

Thumbs down for a roadmap with a FM switch-off.
Public funding will be crucial. Set for a political decision autumn 2015.
A Digital Radio Coordinator has for a year worked together with the public service radio and the commercial radio industry to produce a roadmap on how to digitalize terrestrial radio, not why. The plan consists of a mutual launch, extension of the licenses for commercial radio actors to broadcast analogue and a conditional shutdown of FM transmissions. However, the proposal is not welcome with enthusiasm by the public opinion.

A period of parallel transmissions of 5-8 years will ensue 2016, with simultaneous broadcast of both analogue FM and digital DAB+. During this period, the present licenses for commercial radio to broadcast analogue on FM will expire. It is suggested that the analogue licenses be extended until the FM transmissions are discontinued. This is conditioned on continued paralleldigital broadcasting and will not be subject to license fees. It is proposed that a transition from FM to DAB+ will be implemented 2016-2024

FM transmissions will be discontinued in 2022, given that four conditions are met. The first is that the digital transmission of public service has the same coverage as its existing FM transmissions, namely 99.8 per cent. The second is that the digital transmissions offer broader choice and more value for the listener. The third condition is that 50 per cent of the radio listeners daily listen to DAB+. And finally, that there are economical and practical possibilities to convert car receivers for digital reception. If these conditions are met in 2020, FM transmissions will be discontinued in 2022. Community radio will continue to broadcast on FM for the time being.

Listeners need to invest in new equipment. Due to this technology shift, approximately 10 million receivers need to be exchanged before their expected operating lifespan expires according to the Coordinator. Replacement by DAB equipped receivers will thus cost the consumers an estimated total of SEK 5 billion.

Public service radio will need extra public financing to be able to pay for double transmission costs during the transition period. It is estimated to SEK 1665 million. In addition to this Sveriges Radio will need SEK 100 million a year in order to develop new channels and production of content. This is said to be covered by extra public funding and reorganization.

This plan has now been presented by the Coordinator to the government which will refer it for comments to a broad spectrum of authorities and other organizations. 

A political proposal can be worked out after Riksrevisionen - the National Audit Office - has presented its findings in March 2015.  Based on the findings the politicians might find it impossible to involve further public funding or other government involvement in the introduction of DAB in Sweden. The final decisive moment for DAB in Sweden is estimated to be on the the table of the Parliament in the autumn of 2015.

Not surprisingly the plan has been met with positive comments by interest in the DAB sphere; the public radio company and the two commercial networks as well as the broadcast provider Teracom. However, there are no positive comments to be found in the press and in social media. In fact there have been a lot of public ridiculing. Critics often point to the fact that the DAB system is outdated and Internet radio is a sufficient complement to FM radio. 

The Coordinator was assigned by the former Minister of Culture in the center-right government. The new government is a red-green government with the Green Party at the rudder of culture, media and ICT policy. This party as well as its coalition partner the Socialdemocrats are positive to digital radio developments but are not committed to a public funding of a transition to the DAB system. In 2005 the Socialdemocratic government put a lid on a DAB introduction starting 1995.

FM Expansion on Its Way in Sweden