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Foreword and Executive Summary

Foreword

This is a time of intense innovation and change in UK television. Digital technologies are bringing choice and variety to viewers as never before. Digital platforms, like cable, satellite and broadband, are developing rapidly. They are making new types of content available and new ways of experiencing it, from High Definition (HD) to video-on-demand.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) is one very important part of this new television landscape. Digital switchover (DSO) will mean that DTT services are available throughout the UK – allowing DTT to become the way in which we ensure that the whole country has access to Public Service Broadcasting ( PSB), free-to-air.

Parliament has given Ofcom important responsibilities for the regulation of DTT. These are wider and deeper than our responsibilities for other television platforms, reflecting the role that DTT has in making PSB content available to all.

We think it is very important that the regulation of DTT allows it to stay at the forefront of broadcasting - adopting new technologies, so it can offer new services, and make the very best use of valuable spectrum. This document sets out our conclusions on how we believe the DTT platform could evolve over the next few years.

In brief, it describes how we can realise a tremendous opportunity - to begin upgrading DTT by embracing the latest technologies. These have the potential to bring huge increases in capacity to the platform, enabling it to offer richer and more varied services, including HD.

Our statement describes how, subject to decisions by the Government, this huge prize can be achieved without needing more spectrum, and, while protecting viewers’ access to existing PSB services.

I encourage all those who support the development of the DTT platform – broadcasters, multiplex operators and consumer groups – to work with us to turn this prize into reality.

Ed Richards , Chief Executive






Executive Summary

Introduction

1.1 This Statement concludes our consultation process initiated in November 2007 (-1-) in response to a request by the Government for advice on how the MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 technologies could be introduced to the DTT platform and the potential use of regulatory powers by the Government and Ofcom to bring this about.

1.2 Our consultation set out Ofcom’s statutory duties and policy objectives with specific reference to our spectrum and broadcasting duties and objectives. It also made reference to our own general regulatory principles, including that we operate with a bias against intervention - but a willingness to intervene firmly where necessary. Our consultation invited views on a range of issues and, in particular, on proposals to clear services from and upgrade one public service (i.e. universal coverage), DTT multiplex.

1.3 Section 2 recaps on our proposals and provides an overview of recent developments. Section 3 summarises our statutory duties and the particular policy objectives that we are pursuing in relation to the proposals that we set out in our consultation. Section 4 provides a summary of responses to our consultation together with our views on them. In Section 5, we set out our conclusions and recommendations to the Government in response to its request and we then propose a series of next steps in Section 6, if those recommendations are accepted.

Our conclusions and recommendations to the Government

1.4 We received 88 responses to our consultation. Those responses and extensive dialogue with stakeholders have helped us test and improve our proposals. We thank respondents and other parties who have contributed in other ways over recent months. We have also worked closely with the BBC Trust to ensure that our recommendations to the Government take account of the respective roles of Ofcom and the BBC Trust in regulating commercial PSB and the BBC. As a result, we have been persuaded to adopt certain changes to our proposals, but we do not consider they represent fundamental differences to those on which we consulted.

1.5 We have particularly considered an alternative proposal for bringing about the reorganisation, upgrade and allocation of capacity made by several PSBs. W e have concluded that, for the reasons set out in Section 4, the proposal is less likely to secure the greatest benefits for viewers and the platform generally. Rather, we consider that firm and targeted intervention would lead to substantially greater benefits for citizens and consumers, including helping address short term capacity constraints and – crucially – provide a clear path to meet longer term growth in demand for higher bandwidth services on DTT.

1.6 We believe, in particular, that the industry-led approach proposed by the PSBs would not allow for an open and transparent process of allocating what is a valuable capacity on a public service multiplex; it does not take full account of the level of regulatory intervention that we believe would still be required to implement the proposals; it is more likely to increase the risks that the implementation would be delayed, which in our opinion, would be likely to result in a significant loss of value to consumers; and finally, in the absence of further information and evidence, our view is that it lacks measures to maximise the public value from the use of the capacity.

1.7 In contrast, we believe that the proposed reorganisation (with some changes as a result of views expressed during our consultation) would bring significant benefits to both citizens and consumers through the wide availability of new and innovative services and the more efficient use of valuable spectrum by the broadcasters, reinforcing the UK’s leading position in the adoption of digital television services. Indeed, our consultation noted that the overall benefits to the UK economy from the adoption of these proposals could be substantial. The wide support shown by all sections of the industry to the underlying proposals reinforces our assessment of the credibility of the proposals and the potential benefits they should bring to the UK.

1.8 Therefore, our recommendations to Government on the key issues include that :

  • The MPEG-4 and DVB-T2 technologies should be introduced to one universal coverage multiplex (Multiplex B as currently operated by BBC Free to View Limited); this should enable carriage of three HD (or up to 15 standard definition (SD)) sized services from 2009 and a fourth service available from 2012.
  • Capacity should, in principle, be reserved for core PSB services on universal coverage ( PSB) multiplexes, including Five and S4C, TG4 and the Gaelic Digital Service (GDS) - if approved for DTT carriage by the BBC Trust.
  • The reorganisation should be linked to DSO and should start in the Granada region in late 2009. The first three blocks of Multiplex B capacity should become available at that point with a fourth expected in 2011 or 2012.
  • The BBC Trust should retain oversight of the use of one of the first three blocks. The other two of these blocks should be available for award by Ofcom through a comparative selection process later this year with the fourth block awarded by Ofcom, if appropriate, sometime in 2009/10 after conclusion of the PSB Review.
  • These changes should be brought about through the use of both Ofcom’s and Government’s respective regulatory and statutory powers – in particular, we are recommending that the Secretary of State considers using those vested in him by section 243 of the Communications Act 2003 (CA03).
  • A working group should be established to manage the reorganisation and launch of services on Multiplex B and the dovetailing of this process with the existing DSO programme. The group would consist of broadcasters, commercial and consumer equipment manufacturers, transmission infrastructure and multiplex operators, Government, Ofcom and other parties as appropriate for implementing the proposed policy (see Section 6).

Next steps & implementation

1.9 The interim timetable for implementing our recommendations is set out in Section 6; this is subject to decisions by the Government. The next steps outlined below reflect our understanding from our discussions with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) of a way forward following the Government’s consideration of our recommendations:

  • Decisions by the Secretary of State in response to Ofcom’s recommendations including, if adopted, the potential issue of a section 243 Order enabling implementation of those recommendations.
  • Publication by Ofcom of a draft Invitation to Apply (ITA) for the initial two blocks of Multiplex B capacity which would serve to assist interested applicants with their preparation of any applications to any formal ITA that may be published subsequently.
  • Ofcom will consider whether any amendments are needed to the draft ITA to reflect the provisions of such an order, before publishing our formal invitation for applications for the relevant capacity. We expect to give not less than four weeks but no longer than six weeks for applications to be made upon publication of the notice.
  • Establishment of the implementation working group, with initial meeting to be held after the publication of the draft ITA.
  • Publication by Ofcom of a notice of the ITA, inviting formal applications for the Multiplex B capacity, following any decision by the Government on the use of its statutory powers in light of its consultation.
  • Determination by Ofcom whether (or not) to reserve any of that capacity to any proposed service offerings by reference to our selection criteria and, as soon as reasonably practicable after that decision, either publish the names of successful applicants (together with granting or varying relevant multiplex and content licences) or publish our reasons for not reserving capacity.
  • Modifications to Technical Codes
  • Technical trials (of transmission and reception equipment).
  • Launch of services ( Granada region at DSO).

1.10 The steps above are set out in more detail in Section 6 , together with our initial estimates of dates for each step. We propose that an implementation plan is published in draft after the initial meeting of the working group and once a decision has been made by the Government.

Footnote:

1.- See: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/dttfuture/dttfuture.pdf

The full document is available below:

In this section

Digital Television: Enabling New Services - Facilitating efficiency on DTT  PDF Document  (357 kB)

Statement - full print version published 03|04|08

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