ULTV slams Ofcom band manager plans

Thursday, November 19 2009, 13:58 GMT

By Andrew Laughlin,

United for Local Television (ULTV) has described Ofcom's proposal to appoint a spectrum band manager as akin to asking local TV providers to "wear a straightjacket to fight Goliath".

Ofcom is currently making spectrum available for low-power local digital TV stations to be awarded on a city-by-city basis. As part of this process, the media regulator recently signalled its intention to appoint a band manager to make spectrum available on fair, reasonable and non discriminatory terms for programme-making and special events (PMSE).

The watchdog expects local TV operators to use the band manager, but has not stipulated any in-built special requirements to allocate them spectrum on fair terms, which could leave them open to being muscled out of the market.

In an open letter to Ofcom chairman Collette Bowe, ULTV spokesperson Jaqui Devereux said that asking local TV operators to negotiate spectrum access with an "unregulated dominant band manager is the equivalent of asking David to wear a straightjacket to fight Goliath".

She continued: "It is clearly unacceptable for Ofcom to create a situation in which one commercial body has an effective unregulated monopoly over the spectrum required by local TV users to launch services.

"We have gone public with this letter because, despite many conversations with Ofcom, they made no reference to our specific concerns relating to the band manager in any of their public documents this year including the PSB Review, the band manager consultation or even their local media review.

"We believe it is irrational for Ofcom to regulate spectrum access for PMSE users but not local TV users of the same spectrum. There is ultimately the potential for hundreds of local and community TV stations to launch on digital terrestrial television. We cannot understand why Ofcom would wish to appoint an unregulated band manager with the freedom to deny local TV users fair and reasonable access to the spectrum they need."

In response, an Ofcom spokesman recognised the importance of local TV provision and said that it will be taken into account when the band manager is appointed later in the year.

"Ofcom believes that local television can make an important contribution to public service purposes in a digital age. That is why we have closely consulted with organisations such as United for Local Television on the opportunities for and needs of local TV services," he said.

"In particular, we have consulted on creating a band manager to meet the spectrum needs of programme-making and special events. The band manager could also make its spectrum available for local TV, and we welcome ULTV's and others' views on how this could work.

"We are considering all the responses we have received to both band manager consultations and will address them when we publish our statement on the band manager award this winter."

ULTV also wants Ofcom to reserve spectrum during the digital switchover for local TV to be delivered on digital terrestrial television under a new Channel 6 brand.