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Watch out, world! Ofcom is off the leash to bite radio jammers

Watchdog back in the kennel after the Olympics

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The UK radio regulator will start regulating the use of radio spectrum, but only at Olympic venues and only for the duration of the Games, despite calls for Ofcom to be given longer-lasting clout.

Anyone interfering with public safety radios during the Olympics, and near any Olympic site, will have Ofcom on their backs, thanks to new legislation which gives the regulator powers most people thought it already had and everyone else thinks it should have.

The "Wireless Telegraphy (Control of Interference from Apparatus) (the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) Regulations 2012" (PDF, dull but mercifully short) permit the regulator to sanction anyone caught using equipment spitting out radio signals in frequencies used by public safety, and have been up for public consultation since 25 April, but those responding (PDF, shorter than one would expect) seem more interested in why this isn’t a normal part of Ofcom's work rather than something special lasting only the length of the Games:

"It seems funny to me that it takes the Olympics to make Ofcom take their statuary duty [SIC] regarding EMC seriously," says Tim Hauge, one of the individuals responding to the consultation.

"So Ofcom has suddenly decided to enforce the [regulations] and make sure that no interfering devices are in use ... but only for the duration of the Games?" questions another clearly frustrated member of the public, continuing: "Meanwhile, the rest of us have to put up with PLAs, switch-mode PSUs and plasma TVs making mincemeat of the MF and HF bands (and sometimes VHF as well), while you instruct your investigation teams to wring their hands and refuse to act."

The same argument is made, rather more coherently if with less passion, by the Radio Society of Great Britain. The RSGB also takes issue with a couple of clauses in the proposed regulations, pointing out that neither "apparatus" nor "safety of life" are properly defined, though Ofcom has made only minor changes in either regard.

The BBC was also unhappy with the "safety of life" limitation, pointing out that Ofcom took responsibility for ensuring "wireless services free from harmful interference" as part of the Olympic bid.

Ofcom normally only manages radio equipment, so radio interference generated by inverters on solar panels, or plasma TVs, is arguably beyond its remit as long as it passes EU regulations at the time of sale. By requiring additional legislation Ofcom is admitting that it hasn't the power to keep the airwaves clear any other method, something which a regulator should surely be able to do. ®

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