The much-discussed 800MHz funding scheme heralds only partial compensation for PMSE users, writes David Davies. After months of speculation, communications regulator Ofcom has unveiled details of the Government funding scheme to assist PMSE users affected by forthcoming 800MHz spectrum reallocation.
Prior to the announcement, expectations for the scheme had already been lowered by a statement from communications minister Ed Vaizey (pictured) alluding purely to channel 69 users; there was no mention of channels 31-37 or 61-68. As PMSE compensation campaign group Save Our Sound UK (SOSUK) pointed out, this would only cover approximately 6% of the frequencies being cleared.
The scheme finally outlined on 5 August continued this partial approach with the news that eligible channel 69 users are to receive "roughly 55%" of the cost of replacement equipment. Precise levels of funding will be determined via a rate card based on replacement price information supplied by manufacturers.
While the basic eligibility criteria are clear - users must have held a channel 69 licence on 2 Feb 2009 or in the 12 months before that date, and will need to have purchased their equipment before 30 June 2009 - the scheme does incorporate some interesting variables: for example, funding will be "slightly higher" for equipment claimed for earlier than 1 October 2012.
Save Our Sound UK told PSN-e: "Today's statement from Ofcom confirms that only equipment that tunes to channel 69 will be eligible for compensation, thus the points made in SOS UK's press release on 28 July in respect of the exclusion of channels 31-37 and 61-68 stand.
"We have now seen the details as to what the Government's 'significant contribution' towards the cost of replacing eligible equipment means: around 55% of the replacement cost. As there are many different groups affected by this decision, it would be premature for Save Our Sound UK to comment on this without consultation. Having said that, there will undoubtedly be a very considerable number of users who will be asking where they will find the additional capital required to replace their equipment and do their job. Ofcom itself acknowledged these difficulties in its statement today .
"Furthermore, it is extremely important to note that neither Ofcom nor HM Treasury has formally approved the funding package. This will not take place until all funding applications have been received and the corresponding spending profile is known. Save Our Sound UK will maintain the pressure until final consent is provided by Government."
Registration for the funding scheme will open on 23 September and close at the end of December 2010, with Equiniti administering the process (full details here www.pmsefunding.co.uk). Ofcom expects to start paying out funding to those who are eligible from March 2011 onwards.
The announcement emerged a week after the UK Government gave the go-ahead for Ofcom to conduct a combined auction of 2.6GHz and 800MHz spectrum. The sale, set to pave the way for new mobile broadband services, is likely to take place towards the end of next year.
While PMSE users will surely be seeking further clarification of the compensation scheme's ins and outs, the prospect of costly and far-reaching investments in new systems throughout the live performance and broadcast sectors appears to be unavoidable.