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Ofcom taps sailors for new fees

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Ofcom has published proposals for charging those at sea for radio communications, but would like everyone to note that it's not planning to screw the lifeboats this time.

The regulator has been bitten before, when it casually suggested that lifeboats might like to pay market rates for radio spectrum. This time not only are lifeboats and mountain rescue specifically excluded, but they could also be in line to get some new spectrum for free while everyone else is going to have to stump up AIP* rates for radio comms.

Maritime radio is complicated by international agreements for uses of specific frequencies, which prevents Ofcom selling off the spectrum. But narrow bands keep the cost quite low, though Ofcom would also like to start charging different amounts depending on the location - an area-defined licence for a city (50km square, covered by any number of transmitters) will cost £990, while the same coverage in the Highlands will only set you back £12 a year.

For the RNLI (lifeboats) and their ilk Ofcom reckons a couple of channels might be allocated through the Maritime Coastguard Agency, which already pays AIP for spectrum used by mountain rescue organisations, who would then take over management of the spectrum.

The proposals are at pains to point out that even if the RNLI didn't want spectrum handled by the MCA (the charity is notoriously independent) then under the proposals it could pay for a nationwide channel of its own for only £8250 a year.

The detailed proposals (pdf) are open for comments until the 13th of November, but those of us not operating boats will be pleased to hear that the lifeboat that pulls you out of the water after an ill-advised swim will still be able to phone home. ®

* Administered Incentive Pricing : Ofcom thinks of a number, you pay it every year.

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