Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by ACTO

  The attached Word document is a Survey of Local Public Service Broadcasting prepared for publication in Airflash—the magazine of the Community Media Association—by the Institute of Local Television.[4] It has also appeared in a recent edition of the pdf directory ACTO—local public service television directory.

  The purpose of this Survey was to better understand the present public purpose and public service roles undertaken by the RSLs—the local TV restricted service licenses.

  The Survey was prepared in support of the Local TV sector's long-standing claim for recognition as "local public service television broadcasters".

  A Campaign for Local TV has been underway ever since the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 made provision for local branches of community and voluntary organisations to have their own channels on cable. Sadly, cable failed to live up to expectations and the few local services that were carried suffered badly from cable's poor reach. Channel 5 also held out prospects for Local TV, to be dashed by the ITC's claim that the fifth channel should serve an "essentially national" purpose. The RSLs underwritten in the 1996 Act have been a poor and compromised alternative to those proposals made to secure Local TV by the then opposition Lords.

  So [...] in short, Local TV by one means or another has been knocking on spectrum's door for more than two decades.

  The claim since 1989 has been that like the national TV channels Local TV must reach its local universe as completely as possible. No matter how much Ofcom talks up the virtues of broadband instead of DTT, broadband's penetration remains just 17% of the UK at TV speeds. It is not the preferred way to receive Local TV (says the MORI poll undertaken for Ofcom's PSB studies).

  The interleaved spectrum option favoured for Local DTT by Ofcom in DDR also proposes less than a local universal and would also be poorly available across the UK—so once more this solution for Local TV will not provide services to the majority of households in the transmission area while ignoring the outlying or more rural parts of the country.

  The only solution that makes sense is that Local TV occupy a national DTT channel on the PSB muxes in the form of a local network channel (LNC). Local TV channels replace the LNC using an inexpensive and robust technology known as add/drop at each of the 81 main transmitter sites. This solution can be rolled out from switchover requiring no additional (or released) spectrum because it takes up some of the spectrum gained from the better compression arising with the switch from 16 to 64 Qam.

  To achieve its public and civic purpose Local TV needs to be transmitting alongside the national PSB channels on comparable terms.

  To allow access for LNC to the PSB muxes the Secretary of State should recommend to parliament that Local TV on DTT will have PSB status. Ofcom has provided a sketch of Local DTT's "public purpose" (included within the attached).[5]

  ACTO believes that only if Local TV is carried on the PSB muxes will it serve the public role Ofcom's DDR and PSB reviews confirm the public require.

  The Local TV sector, past, present and future—urges the Committee's support for Local TV as PSB.

  Local TV is vital to:

    —    Maintain plurality in public service broadcasting in the digital age.

    —    Is a clear candidate for public funding in addition to the BBC.

    —    The future of key areas of public service media content such as news provision and children's programming.

    —    Redistributes the local "regional TV PSB" element upon which part of the Public Service Provider concept is based.

    —    Supports the case for provision of public service material on new (TV) media.

January 2007

4   Not printed. Back

5   Not printed. Back

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