Saturday, 23 September 2017

DAB Vision for Alternative Use of FM Band Fades Away

No country wants to discuss with Norway about alternative use of FM
The Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) has been given the cold shoulder when trying to discuss alternative use of the FM band with colleagues in other countries. At the conference Frequency Forum in Oslo on September 20 a message killed the hope that the band will be used for other community or commercial purposes if Norway completely switches to DAB 2022.

The use of the entire FM band (87.5-108 MHz) is presently reserved for broadcast radio through international agreements (ITU etc). Since the vast majority of countries that have joined these agreements do not plan to turn off FM in the near future, these frequencies will still be internationally assigned for many years to come. For example neighboring Finland and Sweden have no plans to switch-off FM.

When the national channels turn off their FM transmitters 2017, there will be many available frequency resources on the FM band in Norway. Local radio which is authorized to broadcast on FM until 2022 has expressed its requirements to use available frequencies, including improving coverage in its own geographic area.

FM may not be the future, many might say, even though local radio continues with FM at least by 2021. But there is no doubt that Norway is alone in switching-off FM. There is no international interest in looking at alternative uses of this band, said John-Eivind Velure, Head of Division at Nkom. These are things we have discussed with other member states in international forums, but nobody is interested in starting any harmonizing this for other uses from now on. He also said that presently, local radio can not count on to use non-used frequencies. There are clear guidelines from Stortinget (the parliament).


Closing the FM band completely is important for DAB interests, as it would ensure a success for the DAB system. In Norway, originally there was a push for a total FM simultaneously for both national and local radio. But the resistance was strong from local radio and this has been put aside until further notice. Still there is not any political decision taken about what will happen to the FM band and local radio from 2022.

Finding an alternative use of the FM band is a completely Norwegian idea that was presented in the government's DAB proposition 2011. The Ministry of Culture has been very uncertain about the future about what to do with a possibly vacant frequency band (87.5-108 MHz). In the long run, if the FM band is released in many other countries, manufacturers will get stronger incentives to develop testers and equipment for use in this band. This in turn could stimulate innovation in the tenet bid on the FM band and increase the demand for its frequencies. (Stortingsmelding nr 8 2011).

The conclusion is that the FM band still makes optimal society benefits for local and regional terrestrial radio. For decades to come. It will be very difficult for Norwegian politicians to motivate a ban on the continued use of the FM band for the Norwegian local radio from 2022. However, there will be pressure from the interests of the national DAB networks (mainly the two foreign owned media groups Bauer and MTG ,as well as public broadcaster NRK).

Also a substantial annual state aid will be required for local-based local radio to be able to broadcast on DAB. Switch from FM to DAB will be too costly with higher distribution costs and probability lost listenership. Local radio listenership on FM is presently booming while national channels are leaving FM.

Also read

Public Revolt Against DAB Radio in Norway Intensifying
DAB-transition in Norway: Public Radio Down, Up for Local FM Radio
Demands For a Review of the Political Decisions Regarding DAB in Norway

Follow the debate about DAB and FM in newspapers in Norway, Sweden and Denmark (Editorials, op-ed etc)