Sunday 7 April 2019

Norway On the Road to Retain FM Radio

Local Radio Consultation: Strong Univocal Resistance to DAB.
Norway seems to join the rest of the world by accepting the global broadcast standard FM. The media authority has the government's task to investigate whether local radio could continue on FM after 2021. Among 55 consultation referrals, only the three national DAB stakeholders are against continued FM. Meanwhile politicians from several parties in the parliament have already committed themselves for a continued FM for local radio (See separate stories below). However, DAB stakeholders will continue their lobbying for a total FM switch-off.

47 local radio stations have submitted their own referral responses. Overall, the Norwegian local radio, as well as the organizations concerned, wants to keep FM and are negative to switch over to DAB. Only NRK, Bauer and NENT are negative to extended FM for local radio from 2021.

Extended FM license is good for diversity.

The Norwegian Local Radio Association (NLR) is one of several organizations that has submitted a response to the Media Authority. The media industry is changing fast. International players such as Facebook and Google are increasingly gaining market share in local advertising markets, threatening both local and national players. In such a situation, NLR believes that by extending the licenses on FM to 2031, the authorities facilitate continued media coverage on radio, local news production, that the local radio becomes economically viable, and ensures that local radio stations survive in the competition with both national radio channels and other international media players, the association writes.

Local radio contributes positively to local democracy. Local radio has its strength in communicating local information, politics, culture and entertainment. With local content as its strongest weapon, the local radio in many cases holds the role of meaningful opposition to the local newspaper. In some places, local radio constitutes the only editorial voice in local democracy, says NLR.

Otherwise, the economy is very important for the local radio. In short, it does not cost society a crown to let local radio continue to broadcast on FM, but it becomes expensive to get all local radio over to DAB, partly impossible. - The geographical areas allocated to local DAB are large. For practical and economic reasons, local DAB systems are largely established in densely populated areas with commercial base and several players who can share the costs. A significant number of local radio stations will probably not be allowed to broadcast on DAB, as it will not be economically viable.

The association also believes that local radio on FM does not prevent digitization of the national channels, because they themselves now claim that the listener is now back at the level before the FM closure. NLR's conclusion is that the current FM license should be extended to 2031 (the same year as the DAB license expires).

Read the NLR submission in full (in Norwegian)

In his response, Radio Rjukan writes that it is imperative for the local radio industry to continue on FM, and this as long as possible. Without FM distribution, it will be very difficult, probably impossible to continue. Seen from one who has worked with local radio for over 30 years, it is strange that state authorities are to protect the largest by setting up a distribution that will make it difficult for local radio to survive, writes editor Ole Jon Tveito.

We are aware that local radio has never been prioritized by the state, but local radio stands for important functions which national radio will never be able to perform. We do not want the big national channels to decide how to distribute our programs and set framework conditions that enable us to survive as a medium, writes Tveito who also has bad practical experience of local DAB:

In upper Telemark, we have had test broadcasts on DAB with support from the Local Radio Fund, but these have been very unsatisfactory. DAB does not show much the same stability, transmission quality or coverage as FM. The transmitters, which are also expensive, require temperate and ventilated terrain conditions to function, and are also significantly more sensitive to temperature and current variations.

Although we rent capacity for much more than we have had for the operation of our own FM network, we have not been close to the stability we need to enable us to base ourselves on DAB transmission, writes Radio Rjukan in his reply.

Overwhelming support for FM in the consultation round.

The media supervisory authority has received 55 referral responses (instillingar), of which 47 come from local radio stations around the country. Everyone wants to continue on FM and is generally negative to DAB. The responses from the national stakeholders NRK, Bauer and NENT are not unexpectedly negative to an extended FM from 2021. Other referral responses come from organisations as IKT-Norway (the ICT industry), the copyright organization, the radio listeners association and the music industry which all want a continued local radio on FM.

Torgeir Waterhouse at IKT-Norway answers the question of whether local radio should be allowed to continue on FM after 2021: The simple answer to this question is yes. The corresponding simple reason for this is that if the local radio does not continue to use FM, it will force them into a digitization run that is not appropriate. For all businesses, it is crucial to succeed in new use of technology to adapt it to real needs and real demand in the real market. It is difficult to see that a forced transition to DAB rather than a player and market-adapted use of technology driven by users' needs and wishes should be appropriate to force through.

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