Saturday 18 June 2016

FM Switch-off in Norway Might Violate European Free Trade Rules

Government again questioned by the surveillance authority about DAB.
The EFTA surveillance authority ESA is not satisfied with the answers they so far have received from the Ministry of Culture regarding DAB. Now there is another ESA letter with several critical issues. Earlier the Norwegian Local Radio Association (NLR) has appealed to ESA because NLR fear that the major players in the radio market, as NRK, P4 and Radio Norway are favored. NLR believes government policy is contrary to EU competition laws. Presently, ESA is handling three different cases regarding the FM to DAB transition in Norway.

The Ministry of Culture already had to answer a series of questions from ESA, but the surveillance authority is not satisfied with the answers they have received and requests the Norwegian authorities to elaborate further.

One of the questions ESA specifically asking is how Norwegian authorities will ensure that there is greater diversity on the airwaves. They ask specifically about how the Ministry of Culture shall ensure that the number of broadcasters actually increasing and that there will be just more channels from existing broadcasters, as NRK and MTG. ESA notes that the Norwegian authorities have cited this as one of the benefits of digitalisation of radio.

The authority is also surprised that Norkring, which is concession holder for the national multiplex Riksblokk 1, is leasing the whole capacity to the company Digitalradio Norway AS, which in turn rents out capacity to NRK, P4 and Bauer Media. ESA want to know concretely when this agreement expires and whether it is capacity available to other broadcasters. A similar question also applies to the other national mux Riksblokk 2, which is not yet fully developed.

ESA believes that an FM switch-off may be a violation of European rules on free trade, in this case, FM receivers, and asks the Ministry of Culture explain why they believe a transition to DAB is so important that it meets the requirements of the EEA Agreement that a change should be necessary and proportionate.

ESA also questions why the concession period is set at 17 years and this is in line with European regulations. The Ministry of Culture has been given July 11 as a deadline to respond.

ESA is presently handling three cases regarding the digital transition in Norway. Although no cases is yet settled ESA has already concluded that there has been state support involved in the transition which is against European regulation.

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