Digital Radio in Wales
Section 49 of the Broadcasting Act 1996 requires
the Radio Authority to reserve to the BBC digital capacity to
enable every BBC local radio service and every BBC radio service
for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to be received in digital
The BBC wishes to offer its radio services to
audiences in WalesRadio Wales and Radio Cymruat
the same time as it brings them digital versions of the network
servicesRadios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live as well as any new
digital radio services.
The BBC has been allocated a UK-wide multiplex
of its own. However, the BBC multiplex is fully utilised across
the whole UK by the five networks and by new BBC servicesthere
is no space for Radio Wales, Radio Cymru, etc.
Also, the UK-wide multiplex allocated to the
BBC is a single frequency network and does not have the technical
capacity of offering different services to different parts of
The speed of roll-out and eventual coverage
of BBC local radio and services in Wales, Scotland and Northern
Ireland will be governed by the Radio Authority's timetable, based
on commercial imperatives, rather than on the principle of universal
coverage for all licence payers.
The BBC has proposed a technical solution to
the Radio Authority (RA):
it would require the allocation of
an additional multiplex frequency to the BBC in Wales (and in
Scotland) on which the services for Wales and Scotland would be
whilst this would require some minor
adjustments to the RA's technical plan, it would not impact significantly
on the RA's proposed roll-out of commercial services;
it would have the added advantage
for the RA of freeing-up space on the commercial multiplexes for
more digital commercial services to be offered.
Radio Authority Response
The BBC's proposal was presented to the Radio
Authority in December 1998.
The Authority has written to both the DCMS and
the Commercial Radio Companies Association to canvass their views.
This consultation process is continuing.
The Radio Authority's response to the BBC's
proposal made the following points:
the proposal raises questions of
principle since it involves the transfer of spectrum earmarked
for use by the RA to the BBC instead;
it regards certain local multiplex
licences which it proposes to advertise as of strategic importance
to the development of digital radio;
the RA is keen to ensure that any
stand-alone development for the BBC in Wales and Scotland would
not have a significant impact on the practicability of these licences
(eg by interference);
certain RA-licenced multiplex areas
would require to operate on a co-channel basis (Swansea and Bristol;
South Wales and West Midlands) some of the areas which appear
in the RA's current published plan would need to be withdrawn
(including Heads of the Valleys; Cardigan Bay; North Wales Coast;
The Radio Authority did suggest that some areas
could be served by L-Band frequencies (available from 2007 onwards).
BBC contact with DCMS
The BBC has written to the DCMS (26 January,
1999), informing the Department of the proposal and requesting
The letter makes the following points:
the rate at which the BBC's services
for Wales and Scotland are rolled out currently depends on the
RA's plans for offering commercial radio licences;
this gives rise to tensions where
the RA's priorities for roll-out, for commercial reasons, do not
match the BBC's public service priorities;
the problem has its root in the relative
shortage of spectrum but it appears that in the medium term, spectrum
shortage will be readdressed by the reallocation of L-Band frequencies
frequencies earmarked for commercial
stations in Wales (and Scotland), but on which the RA have no
immediate plans for licencing services, could be reallocated to
the BBC to allow early roll-out of the Welsh and Scottish services;
in return, the RA could be allocated
L-Band frequencies when they become available in the run-up to
in the short term this plan offers
benefits to audiences by freeing up space on the commercial multiplexes
in Wales and Scotland for additional commercial services, in addition
to the BBC's nation's services on a separate multiplex.
The BBC proposal is being progressed with DCMS
and the Radio Authority. BBC National Governors have also sent
letters to DCMS supporting the BBC proposal.
While the BBC considers the roll-out of Wales-wide
(and Scotland-wide) services a priority, the Radio Authority has
no immediate plans for offering licences across the whole of the
The BBC proposal would require the Radio Authority
to reallocate to the BBC, frequencies which have been earmarked
for commercial stations in Wales and Scotland but on which the
RA have no immediate plans for licensing services.
In return, the Radio Authority could be allocated
some L-Band frequencies when they became available.
In the short term this proposal offers benefits
to audiences by freeing up space on the commercial multiplexes
in Wales and Scotland for additional commercial services in addition
to the BBC's services to those countries on a separate multiplex.
The BBC would welcome the opportunity to work
with the Radio Authority to explore the detailed technical issues
in an attempt to develop workable options satisfying the reasonable
requirements of both public service and commercial radio.
Failure to reach agreement will mean that BBC
Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru will not be available on a single
frequency Digital Radio network across Wales for at least seven