Monday 12 December 2016

Local Radio Demanding FM Frequencies Left By National Channels Going DAB

Great opportunity for local operators in Norway when state and foreign-owned broadcasters move to DAB.
This opening of airwaves will put pressure on politicians to show their cards on the democratic agenda before next years's general elections. When national channels disappear from the FM band next year the vacant frequencies should be used by local radio, says Norwegian Local Radio Association (NLR), which also ask for an increase in subsidies, less detailed regulation of the industry as well as continuity and better overall framework regulation. NLR has recently submitted its comments to the media pluralism investigation committee.

NLR cannot accept that development of the radio industry is hindered, and asks for competitive terms for local radio. We demand that the government recognize local radio as an important part of media diversity, writes NLR.

There will be many available frequencies on the FM band, when national channels closes their FM transmitters next year. These frequencies should be used by local radio. New players locally can also revive the industry. NLR underscores that this frequency band can not be used other purposes than radio and that the state had previously limited the use of the available space.

Although FM frequencies no longer constitutes a limited resource, the authorities have chosen under a new concession period to continue with similar anti-competitive rules. It might not be a task for Norwegian authorities to protect large international players from competition. Nor preventing local media to use these resources and thereby weaken media pluralism, says NLR.

NLR is also critical that grants for local broadcasting ihaven been halved since the other half has been earmarked for digitalisation of local radio. NLR wants a return to the previous level of support, focusing on applications such as production, development and competence. Operating grants to radio stations for linguistic and ethnic minorities must be strengthened to prevent that this part of the radio industry decreases and disappears.

Regarding diversity NLR reacts strongly against 23 local radio stations in the larger cities being are forced from FM with the official motivation that these FM stations can steal listeners from the major channels on DAB.

The authorities may not in detail regulate or control the media, either in content, revenue requirements, distribution platform, or the way in which local media wants cooperation as for example simulcast or retransmission, writes NLR.

Facts and Analysis

Norsk Lokalradioforbund (NLR) organizes most local radio stations, both commercial and non-profit-driven (community radio). NLR should not be confused with the front organization ”Foreningen Norsk Lokalradio" constituted by the DAB players with the aim to get local radio over to DAB.

Today in Norway there are about 215 local radio stations which will continue with FM broadcasting license for five more years. It is likely that the stations will be able to continue on FM also from 2022, since there are no reasonable technical or economic reasons not to allow the continued use of the FM band - especially when the outside world continues with FM.

Norway cannot unilaterally decide on any other use of FM radio (87.5-108 MHz) than for broadcasting. Especially as the neighboring countries continue with FM. Neither in Sweden or Finland, there are plans to close the FM radio. It is also unclear whether Denmark ever will close the FM band since DAB has not yet reached the level of success they hoped for 2002. Denmark has recently announced 77 new FM frequencies for local radio from the 2018th

.Any alternative use of the FM band has not so far been on the international agenda such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), CEPT and EU. Also some concrete and credible proposals for alternative use of the FM band has not been presented by the authorities in Norway.

Radio in the DAB network in 2017 will be dominated by the state and two foreign-owned (NRK, Bauer and MTG). With increased frequency space on the FM band Norwegian owned private commercial and non-profit community radio can look forward to this great potential to develop broadcasting closer to the citizens - locally.

Read the NLR letter (in Norwegian)
Lokalradio i et mangfoldsperspektiv (NLR document in Norwegian)

Also read 
DAB Transition Losers in Norway: Public Radio and Commercial Networks
Another 77 Frequencies For Local FM Radio in Denmark
Norwegians Reject Transition from FM to DAB

Community Radio: FM and Digitalization (Report)