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Ofcom makes space for luvvy radio until August 2021

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Ofcom has ended various rounds of consultation by laying out its plans for the Program Makers & Special Event spectrum users, promising them priority access to interleaved spectrum and channel 38 until August 2021.

Users will have to pay market rates, with Ofcom setting those rates based on what it thinks others would pay for the same spectrum. For the white spaces (TV channels that are empty locally) that means nothing for now, but theatrical users will have to cough up real money for the rest of the spectrum.

The decisions follow several rounds of consultations, and in the updated statement (pdf, mind-numbingly dull) the regulator explains why the responses to those consultations have, almost without exception, been carefully considered and finally rejected. So things stand much as they did at the last consultation, with only the dates and notice periods being decided now.

The PMSE crowd won't get exclusive access until 2021 - the new band manager will be required to give priority to PMSE users until then but can hawk the spectrum out to anyone else who wants it. That new band manager won't be set up until after the Olympic games, during which Ofcom will take personal responsibility for spectrum allocations. But once the games are out of the way we're promised a beauty contest from which the regulator will select the company best able to serve the PMSE community.

That company will be able to lease spectrum to anyone and take on management of additional spectrum if it wishes, but PMSE users will get priority and five year's notice if they're going to lose it (so notice can't be given until September 2016).

Ofcom would like wireless microphones, cameras and suchlike to use radio spectrum like everyone else, and pay for it to ensure efficient use. Ideally the regulator would like magical technology to make the problem disappear, despite repeated assertions from the industry that digital systems aren't nearly good enough:

"Some developments may be stimulated by the PMSE sector being faced with the true value of the spectrum it uses. As an example, we might see digital technology becoming more attractive to users if access to the spectrum that supports it is less expensive than spectrum that supports analogue technology", says the regulator. So moaning about quality is one thing, but are PMSE users prepared to pay for it?

Ofcom reckons that the cost of using wireless technologies, even analogue ones, won't increase significantly (summarised on page 45 of the pdf) which should ease the concerns of many, and the government's commitment to paying for replacement PMSE kit (for those ousted from channel 69) has already quelled a lot of the complaints.

So West End and touring theatre should be able to continue as normal for the next decade, and while Big Brother might not need wireless microphones next year it will no doubt still be compelling viewing, even if it's a little harder to hear what the inmates are saying. ®

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