Wednesday 9 March 2016

European Competition Authority Opens Two DAB Radio Cases in Norway

Government decision on transition from FM to DAB reviewed by ESA in Brussels
Within a week the Norwegian government is questioned in two ESA cases regarding the
digital radio transition. Norway is not member of the European Union, but an EEA member (European Agreement) and needs to follow the articles and laws that EU/EEA requires. It started with the Norwegian Local Radio Association (NLF) letter to the Ministry of Culture asking for an answer on a basic question: Is the Norwegian FM switch-off decision legal with respect to our EEA agreement? 
Also the Ministry of Industry & Fishing now has received the case regarding a complaint on unlawful state support to the private DAB promoting company Digitalradio Norge AS.

On 22 December 2015, the EFTA Surveillance Authority received the complaint against Norway concerning the introduction of DAB radio. According to the complainant, the introduction of DAB will lead to the phasing out of FM radio networks which is contrary to free movement of goods and freedom of establishment.In order for the authority to examine and assess the complaint,the Norwegian government in a letter to the Ministry of Culture has been invited to provide information on 13 points before March 23, 2016.

The authority wants a confirmation that the Norwegian government plans to close partially the FM network by 2017 and to phase out the remaining FM network by 2022 and the reasons which have led to this decision.The different legislative or administrative acts adopted or under preparation in order to implement the closing down of FM radio network is also asked for. The authority want to know if it will be possible to sell FM radio transmitters and receivers in Norway after 2022.

The authority want the government to consider how the phasing out of the FM network complies with the principle of technology neutrality as laid down in a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 2002 on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services.

The authority also want to know if the government is aware of another EEA State that plans to discontinue the FM network. Also the reasons why it has been decided not to have the FM radio network and DAB coexisting. And if imposing DAB standard only or other standards as well.

As there will be no market for FM radios in Norway, FM radios from other EEA states will not be able to enterNorway writes the authority.Please explain, if you consider this a restriction on the free movement of goods and/or establishment, irrespective of whether or not this is the case, please explain why the potential restriction on the free movement of goods and establishment should be considered justified.

In Norway,the three major radio companies NRK, SBS/Bauer and MTG who have joined forces to pursue DAB but a political decision on the closure of FM radio has proved necessary to force the reform through. The NLF has in vain requested to be able continue on FM. Still, Norway is the only country in the world forcing listeners to change from FM to DAB.

This is the first two Eurolegal cases involving the introduction of DAB. Earlier there have been two cases involving unlawful state support for transition from analog to digital terrestrial television (DTT) in Spain (2013) and in Berlin-Brandenburg (2004). The governments have lost the cases and consequently had to recall the provided funding.

Digitalradio Norge AS is a private company which is owned by the public service NRK and the Swedish company MTG. Its mission is to promote DAB. It also holds some DAB broadcasting permits of its own. - More information about this ESA case will be published soon.

Read the ESA letter with all 13 questions here:

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