The DCMS response has now been published:
Q20. We would welcome views on whether the same arrangements for extending the duration of analogue commercial radio licences (see Q13) in the run up to a future radio switchover should also apply to community radio.
109. The majority of respondents agreed that a flexible period should be introduced for analogue licences leading up to switchover and this includes extending licence durations. A small number of respondents did not agree with this proposal, and a further small number of respondents offered additional recommendations. Of those who supported the proposal, the respondents consisted of service providers and organisations. Respondents said that community radio should be treated equally and that these services should also be given certainty leading up to a digital switchover.
110. The Community Media Association, the representative body for the community radio industry, welcomed the proposals to extend licences and also argued for a longer fixed period in order to preserve resources:
“Licence renewal places a huge administrative burden on stations that are already underfunded and diverts resources away from delivering the business of the station. It is therefore only reasonable that the length of community radio licences is extended to at least 8 years and possibly up to the full 12 years permitted for local commercial analogue radio stations.” [The Community Media Association]
111. However, some respondents disagreed with this proposal and said that the current licensing system based on five-year terms should remain for community radio. The respondents included service providers and members of the public. One respondent, citing the differences between commercial and community radio, explained that licence extensions would not be appropriate for community radio due to funding arrangements and their reliance on volunteers. Some respondents also said that there should be a clear distinction between commercial and community radio and therefore the licensing system should not change.
112. A further number of respondents suggested additional recommendations, such as: community radio should be able to take up DAB carriage on the relevant local multiplex, community radio licences should be synchronised by area so that they expire at the same time, and community stations should be free to be licensed as commercial services.
“this should be on the requirement that community radio stations are required to provide social gain and are compliant with the regulatory framework and key commitments they are obliged to deliver”.
114. The government will support all service providers leading up to a digital switchover, and respondents have demonstrated that a flexible period in the transition up to a switchover will be a welcome measure to the radio industry.
115. Community radio has a different objective to commercial radio and offers a meaningful contribution to the communities that they serve. While community services are currently able to take up DAB carriage if they wish, the introduction of small-scale DAB will increase accessibility to the platform for these services.
116. We therefore believe it would be useful for Ofcom to be able to set flexible periods for all analogue licences in the run-up to a future switchover (subject to the two-year notice period in s97A of the Broadcasting Act 1990), and intend to introduce powers to be able to extend similar arrangements for community radio services services in order to be able to smooth the process of licenses expiring in the run-up to a future radio switchover.