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Ofcom caught between picts and luvvies on 600MHz

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Ofcom has published responses to its digital dividend consultation, but respondents seem more interested in feathering their own nests than contributing to the future of broadcasting.

This consultation only covers the lower part of the dividend, and the interleaved spectrum (white spaces), asking stakeholders what the regulator should be doing with the bands, but despite more than two years of discussion and debate, Ofcom seems to be getting no closer to deciding while stakeholders are too busy protecting their own interests to help (Ofcom's 600MHz summary.

The 550MHz to 606MHz band is already empty in most of the country, and will be entirely cleared out by the end of next year. There are also various bands that will be available in specific locations after 2012, known to Ofcom as "interleaved spectrum" and by the rest of the world as part of the "white spaces".

Ofcom reckons businesses might be interested in making use of both bands, but can't decide if they should be auctioned off together or separately. The regulator also wanted to know what kind of protection the industry thought might be appropriate for neighbouring bands, and what the spectrum might be used for.

Most of the respondents reckoned that more TV channels would fit nicely into the band, with one calling for a new Channel 6 to be launched by combining regional TV networks (which sounds familiar). Channel 4 reckons the spectrum should be reserved for TV, while Channel 5 (perhaps more aware of the commercial realities) reckons there's no demand for any more Freeview channels. The government did make noises about reserving the spectrum for local TV services, but not everyone is convinced there's much call for more terrestrial TV - surely Bid Up TV or Dave Ja Vu could make way for such a channel, if there was real call for it.

BBC Alba reckons the spectrum should be given to BBC Alba, at least in Scotland - as if the Gaels aren't getting enough of subsidy for a Gaelic-language TV station. But even more self-interested is the suggestion from Everything Everywhere that the spectrum be shelved against some future Europe-wide mobile broadband project.

Worse still, for Ofcom, the new government has only just started a review of local TV services, and might yet decide to make use of the interleaved spectrum, so no decision can be made on that until the coalition reaches some conclusions on that.

But assuming the coalition leaves the regulator alone then Ofcom will prepare an auction plan for the 600MHz frequencies next year, leaving the interleaved spectrum to some future date depending on what the government decides. That would see the 600MHz band on the auction block by the end of 2011 - but it's a big assumption to make. ®

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