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Anger over government plans for PMSE

The already tortuous process of preparing for the reallocation of spectrum caused by the Digital Television Switchover in the UK took yet more twists in the last few days, writes Kevin Hilton.

The already tortuous process of preparing for the reallocation of spectrum caused by the Digital Television Switchover in the UK took more twists in the last few days, with the new coalition government still deciding how much compensation will be paid to users, including broadcasters and their suppliers, who have to replace radio microphones and in-ear monitoring (IEM) equipment, writes Kevin Hilton The new Conservative-Liberal Democrat government has confirmed it will only compensate operators working on channel 69, to the disgust of the PMSE (programme makers and special events) sector, which is involved in live broadcasts of sports and concerts (Jamiroquai pictured). Representatives from the Save Our Sound UK (SOSUK) campaign, bringing together industry organisations including the Institute of Broadcast Sound (IBS), the Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS) and BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group), attended a meeting at HM Treasury on 14th July to discuss compensation for owners of existing wireless equipment. The new government’s position was further stated in the House of Commons by Ed Vaizey, minister with responsibilities for communication, culture and the creative industries, in response to a question from Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Colchester. Russell asked what provisions were being made for PMSE operators who will be affected by the clearance of the 600 and 800MHz bands and what compensation will be made. Vaizey replied that PMSE users were given notice by regulator Ofcom in 2005 that they would have to vacate channels 31 to 37 and channels 63 to 68 by 2012, with channels 61 to 62 no longer available from 2007 onwards. “Ofcom consider this an acceptable period of notice for users to react and are not obliged to offer compensation or to find alternative spectrum,” he said. The minister added that PMSE operators had expected to have access to the nationwide channel 69 until 2018 and so will be compensated for being moved from that frequency. “This government is now considering options on the appropriate level of compensation, taking into account how we can best ensure users are neither better nor worse off,” Vaizey commented. “In the current financial climate [there] is the need to appropriately safeguard and make efficient use of taxpayers’ money.” Vaizey said a decision on the reimbursement scheme would be taken “as soon as possible”. These statements do not reassure SOSUK. “Notice was given,” comments a spokesman, “but no concrete information was provided at the time of exactly what spectrum would be available for use on a long-term basis. Because the spectrum under threat was still legally licensable, users were forced to carry on investing in potentially affected products.” IBS representative Malcolm Johnson says that restricting compensation to channel 69 users only is a “very retrograde step” because a lot of equipment designed for the 700 and 800MHz bands bought when notice was given will have a service life of five to eight years from 2012. Johnson calls Vaizey’s concern for the taxpayer “a red herring” as compensation will be paid for from the receipts raised from the sale of spectrum. However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which has responsibility for spectrum, said that no decision had been made on where the money for compensation would come from.