Coalition condemns airwaves auction

A coalition of charities has condemned the decision of the broadcast regulator Ofcom to auction the spectrum of wavelengths freed up by the switchover to digital television in 2012.

The Public Voice coalition, which includes the Media Trust, the NCVO, CSV and Timebank, wanted the freed-up spectrum – the so-called ‘digital dividend’ – to be reserved for the use of broadcasters with social agendas.

However, following a consultation that generated more than 750 responses, Ofcom has stuck to its preference for a market-led approach. In the regulator’s response, David Currie, its chairman, and Ed Richards, its chief executive, said an auction will “allow users to decide how the spectrum should be used and creates the maximum flexibility and opportunities for different technologies and services”.

However, Public Voice fears an auction will leave non-profit broadcasters unable to compete with the commercial sector.

Rebecca Fulton, project manager for the consultation, said: “This decision shows that the regulator has failed to understand its basic duty to UK citizens. Even spectrum packages suitable for local community broadcasts are not being reserved solely for local use or activities that support public service, community and social action aims.”

Caroline Diehl, chief executive of the Media Trust, said the auction contradicted the Government’s commitment to promoting “stronger communities, social enterprise and the voice of marginalised and disadvantaged citizens”.

“Digital switchover gives us a one-off opportunity to invest in communications for social and community purpose,” she said. “Ofcom’s decision is a wasted opportunity that generations will live to regret.”

However, Currie and Richards said social aims could be achieved without “implicit subsidies in the form of spectrum”. “Explicit support through direct funding is more transparent and can achieve a better outcome,” they said in their statement.

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