UK Radio Execs Seek DAB Infrastructure Summit

January 5, 2011

Harsh economic realities may be on a collision course with an analog-to-DAB transition plan in the UK. Central to the issue is where hundreds of millions of dollars needed to bring DAB coverage to parity with that of existing national analog FM signals are going to come from.

Late last fall, commercial radio executives made a point of calling out the BBC on its alleged promise to fund transmission facility build-outs. But the most recent radio/TV license fee settlement -- a piece of legislation that earmarks spending of Radio/TV tax receipts -- made no specific provision for the additional investment needed.

That leaves the DAB transition in a classic Catch-22 conundrum. Commercial radio interests vow they'll not cooperate in transitioning to DAB until the national network provides coverage that can support their current business model in terms of listener numbers. Yet those same commercial interests say they simply can't afford to take on the build out costs. Meanwhile, the BBC finds itself caught up in a new conservative government moving forward with public sector spending cuts so deep that they recently touched off rioting in London.

So what's a government to do? According to an article in the, culture minister Ed Vaizey met with representatives from both camps shortly before the holidays to establish parameters for a DAB "coverage summit" that could take place in March with a specific mission to determine how much each party will need to contribute. Among the items to be sorted out ahead of that meeting are precise estimates of final build-out costs, and how well commercial broadcasters and BBC are meeting terms set out in the digital radio transition framework established ahead of passage of the Digital Britain act.

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