Charities appeal for airwaves to be reserved for community use

A coalition of charities is calling on the Government not to auction off the airwaves freed by the switch from analogue to digital TV to the highest bidder. Instead, it wants some airwaves set aside for community and public uses.

Public Voice, the coalition that campaigns on communications issues, wrote a letter to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Department of Trade and Industry in the run up to their scrutiny of the communication regulator, Ofcom’s, annual plan on 17 April.

When the analogue signal is switched off, region by region, between 2008 and 2012, masses of new airwaves will be released in what has been dubbed the ‘digital dividend’.

In a letter to the chairs of the DCMS and DTI committees, Public Voice, which includes the BBC, RNIB, and the NCVO, has urged the Government to ensure that some of these airwaves are made available for community and public uses.

The coalition fears that not-for-profit organisations simply won’t be able to compete with large, commercial players at auction.

“Under the Communications Act of 2003 Ofcom has a duty to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters,” said Rebecca Fulton, Public Voice’s project manager for the Digital Dividend Project.

“However, since their plans to auction these airwaves became public we’ve heard from a range of groups who do not believe these plans are reflective of that duty. We hope the DCMS and DTI select committees will step in to rectify this.”

Damian Radcliffe, national broadcast and development manager for volunteering charity CSV, argued that airwaves should not simply go to the highest bidder:

"The release of this spare capacity should benefit communities and not be squandered,” he said. “Rather than auctioning off the airwaves, we would prefer short-term licences to be awarded that include quotas for providing social value."

Ofcom is expected to issue a statement about its plans for the Digital Dividend in July.


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