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West End not reduced to opera as yet

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Ofcom has guaranteed some radio channels will be available for the wireless microphones used in theatre and for events, at least until 2009 - but the available frequencies won't be the same across the country, which could be a nightmare for touring shows.

The problem for Programme Making & Special Events (PMSE) users is the uncertainty as to what frequency will be available where, as the country switches to digital TV. This lack of information is preventing companies investing in radio equipment, in the fear that it might become impossible to use within a few years.

Ofcom has now stated that channels 63-69 will be available in the first areas to switch over, but only until 2009 when those frequencies are sold off.

The British Entertainment Industry Radio Group told Policy Tracker that this is "a small but significant" decision. But what the group would like to see is all the auction details made available and no usage of the ex-analogue blocks until 2013.

"There is nothing stopping Ofcom from getting on and designing the auctions for the released spectrum," says the group. "But the awards should stipulate that it cannot be used for new services until 2013."

The group points out that this would ensure effective operation of PMSE services at the 2012 Olympics.

In June, Ofcom put out a consultation document suggesting that either a body be established to bid for frequencies for resale to productions, or that a block of frequency be reserved until 2018, in the hope that a technical solution would make the problem go away by then. A decision on those options isn't expected until the end of the year.

PMSE users have always had privileged access to the spaces between the analogue TV channels, and the switch to digital threatens to leave them shouting, or going back to wired equipment. The industry has argued it needs special treatment thanks to the money it brings into the country (in terms of tourism), very little of which goes directly to the theatres or their productions. ®

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