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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Ofcom secures radio mic future
Some of the cast from musical Spamalot
Many West End shows rely on radio mics
The future of live events, concerts, festivals and theatre shows could be secured thanks to a u-turn by Ofcom.

The regulator has said it will look again at proposals to auction off the spectrum which radio microphones that power such events rely on.

Wireless microphone users had expressed concerns that they would be priced out of the auction process.

Ofcom has launched a new consultation to find a way of ensuring spectrum remains available for radio mic users.

Cultural contribution

For many years, users of radio microphones have accessed part of the spectrum that existed within the frequencies for terrestrial television broadcasting.

With the analogue switch-off looming, Ofcom is proposing to auction off the spectrum that will be freed up to the highest bidder.

Any bidder would have to have knowledge and expertise in the sector and it is extremely unlikely that it would fall into the hands of mobile firms.
Ofcom spokesperson

But the regulator has now acknowledged that within this process it is essential to maintain the long-term supply of radio spectrum for users of wireless microphones.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "Ofcom recognises the important social, cultural and economic contributions that professional programme-makers and wireless microphone users make to the UK.

"Our proposals are designed to ensure that this sector continues to have access to the spectrum it needs to allow it to thrive while ensuring that this valuable and finite resource is used as efficiently as possible."

Must be qualified

One of the proposals is to create a "band manager" - a body appointed by Ofcom to manage the use of the spectrum.

This is a similar option to the existing way that spectrum is allocated to radio mic users, with the exception that the body would no longer have contractual ties to Ofcom.

"The body chosen would be out there in the market. We still hold to the principle that the market-based approach is the best option to secure the most efficient use of the spectrum," said an Ofcom spokesperson.

To reflect this new market-based approach, the fees charged by the spectrum management body would change depending on the amount of spectrum required as a way of motivating those wishing to get a license to use it more efficiently.

Another option being proposed by Ofcom would be to carry on with the auction but hold a pre-qualification process to ensure that any bidders were able and willing to manage the spectrum for radio mic users.

This could quell worries from radio mic users that they would be priced out of the market by those with deep pockets, such as mobile phone companies.

"Any bidder would have to have knowledge and expertise in the sector and it is extremely unlikely that it would fall into the hands of mobile firms," said an Ofcom spokesperson.

Ofcom has not yet specified how much spectrum will be freed up for the specific use of wireless mic users but it has extended its guarantee of spectrum availability from 2012 to 2018.

It has also confirmed that it will continue to make spectrum available to organisations such as charities, religious bodies and community organisations which use so-called "shared" frequencies.

Interested parties have until the end of August to submit their views on the proposals.

Jules Silvester, resource manager in BBC Studios, said the decision was a step in the right direction.

"However, use of the spectrum will undoubtedly cost end users more, particularly if the licences are auctioned.

"The long term future is still by no means secured either, even with Ofcom's extension of the protected usage beyond the end of 2012 to an indeterminate 'longer transition period'."

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