Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
300. You may have done.
(Mr Blissett) I think in terms of most industries
it is sometimes where you are coming from that determines where
you end up and we were a group in Birmingham, we were a very intelligent
application, an extremely intelligent application, more so than
Choice I think, but Choice Birmingham had the backing of Choice
London and we were coming up from scratch from the base of having
done lots of RSLs over a period and lots of training and so forth.
We assembled a very intelligent group of people to run a radio
301. Unfair competition from London.
(Mr Blissett) So we came from nothing and wanted to
start something. Choice was already established in London and
supported the Birmingham group.
302. Do you consider it appropriate for the
Radio Authority to begin developing "Access Radio" now
before a decision has been taken by the Government in principle?
(Mr Buckley) Our view is that not only can the Radio
Authority do so now within the framework of existing legislation
but they should do because the sensible time to do an experiment
is before you get legislation not after, in order that we can
test our models, look at the economic viability, measure the impact
of the sector, and so on. There is an opportunity to do that before
new legislation comes into effect. Under a very similar clause
in the Broadcasting Act 1996 the Independent Television Commission
is already licensing four-year television restricted service licences
and we believe that the Radio Authority could at least extend
a limited number of pilot licences on a longer term basis in order
that community radio can demonstrate its effectiveness.
303. I do think you do a great job but if we
are moving to a situation where both with digital television and
digital radio Internet access is going to be available to almost
everybody, have you done any study of the comparative costs of
developing a local radio station as opposed to creating web sites
with livecam broadcasting both in terms of radio and television?
(Mr Buckley) Yes we have and I think the Internet
is an extraordinarily exciting medium for people working in community
media in terms of its flexibility, its access, its inter-activity
particularly because participation and inter-activity are really
at the core of community radio work. However, the costs of broadcasting
on the Internet are extortionately high at present. British Telecom
currently quote £25,000 per annum for two megabits of bandwidth
which is enough to carry sufficient signal for 100 listeners listening
at something approaching AM quality in mono. We are not looking
for 100 listeners, we are looking for thousands of listeners in
our communities, and we simply cannot afford the prices of webcasting
as they are at the moment or indeed in the foreseeable future.
It is very interesting ground in which to experiment but it is
not the most cost-effective medium for community broadcasting.
FM Radio is and remains so for the foreseeable future.
304. You can use a web site of course for straight
(Mr Buckley) You can use it for text-based material,
archive programmes, short programmes people might listen to online
and so on, but for a live 24-hour broadcasting service it really
still falls well short of the appropriateness of traditional radio
305. Given the flexibility and excitement this
could bring to the communityand I think it is in the longer
term the way forwardshould we as this Committee be pressing
to try and get those costs reduced very dramatically, if we can?
(Mr Buckley) We would be delighted to see the costs
coming down and no doubt they will with increased competition
in the sector. Part of the problem has been the slowness of local
loop unbundling, as I am sure you are aware. Whether the costs
will come down sufficiently for it to come anywhere close to competing
with broadcast technology is really doubtful and whilst there
are many interesting and complementary aspects and roles for the
Internet we will still want to have access to FM, AM and in the
future digital broadcast frequencies.
(Ms Dowson) Also community radio is about access to
participate and listen. If by its very nature it is on the Internet
you are therefore making it exclusive to a smaller number of people,
and people do not listen to the radio via their computers.
306. That is true at the moment.
(Ms Dowson) That is absolutely true.
307. What we were hearing from the digital radio
people is that they will allow some form of Internet access on
radios and, of course, televisions themselves because people will
be using the television set rather than the computer screen to
access the Internet as well. As that rolls out that is where one
would hope that communities (rather than just talking about community
radio) would be able to get access and be able to get a much wider
(Ms Dowson) When you are talking about participation
it has to be in all areas. I think we have to go for the FM band
where people do listen to the radio.
308. It can be interactive too.
(Mr Korbel) Very much. In our station in Longsight
last year in the library foyer people were strolling up and we
would say, "What do you want to do?" It is that easy,
no keyboard, no techno fear.
309. Again that will disappear.
(Mr Korbel) At the moment and you cannot put your
computer in the showeryet.
310. What about access through mobile phones
because people really do love their mobile phones?
(Mr Blissett) That is like having a little portable
radio as well. That sort of technology cannot be that difficult.
(Mr Buckley) With the next generation
of mobile phones there clearly is going to be the opportunity
to carry media on it. The big question mark is what the mobile
phone companies are going to charge the broadcasters for access,
and given the amount they pay to the Government in licence fees
we suspect their prices are not going to be low, but at this present
point in time it is a case of let us watch and see what develops.
Chairman: Thank you for a very valuable
session. We are most grateful to you.
2 Note by Witness: This is a reference to the
cheapness, ubiquity and portable nature of FM radio receivers.
It is our firm belief that this will not be matched by "converged"
media gadgets for the foreseeable future-especially in the greatly
disadvantaged areas where Radio Regen works at the moment. Back