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Future Of The FM Band - Questions And Answers

Future Of The FM Band - Questions And Answers

1. What is the FM band?

New Zealand’s FM radio broadcasting band lies between 88 and 108 MHz. International practice designates this radio spectrum as suitable for FM broadcasting.

The lower part of the band (88-108 MHz) is currently used for a mix of commercial and non-commercial radio broadcasting services. Commercial licences are generally acquired through auction or tender. Non-commercial licences are reserved by the Government for the achievement of public policy objectives. Spectrum is also reserved for the promotion of Maori language and culture in accordance with the Crown’s obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Until recently, the upper part of the band (100-108 MHz) has been used for land mobile services. These services have been cleared from the upper band over the past five years, and this spectrum is now available for FM radio broadcasting.

2. How much spectrum is available for allocation?

The 100-108 MHz band will support up to eight new frequencies in any one coverage area. If repeaters are required to provide supplementary coverage in areas of poor coverage, then the band will support between four and eight new networks. The need for repeaters will depend on the geographical features in coverage areas and the coverage requirements of the new programmes. Areas where coverage demands will affect the number of programmes include Wellington, the Far North, Wanganui, Palmerston North and Levin. Small pockets of Christchurch, Dunedin, and Taupo may also be affected.

Based on these factors, there is sufficient spectrum within the 100-108 MHz band to provide four new nation-wide networks. This is the maximum number of new networks that can be provided without compromising the ability of listeners to enjoy interference free reception of the programme of their choice. In some areas, such as Auckland, there will be spectrum left over that could be used to provide local programmes.

3. How is the Government proposing to allocate the upper FM band (100-108 MHz)?

The public discussion document seeks feedback on preliminary proposals for the future of the FM band and the use of 100-108 MHz spectrum. It is proposed that the four new programmes be used to provide non-commercial broadcast services and that priority be given to:

- National Radio - to enable it to broadcast on FM;

- Concert FM - to enable it to migrate to the upper FM band;

- Maori radio - to enable the establishment of a national programme for the promotion of Maori language and culture;

- Pacific Island radio - for the establishment of a national programme to enable Pacific peoples’ cultures and languages to be heard.

It is also proposed to keep open at this stage the possibility of reserving more spectrum for non-commercial services (for example, Access and Community radio) from whatever is left over in the upper FM band, after the coverage requirements of the four priority services have been met.

The discussion document also seeks feedback on a proposal to auction any spectrum freed-up in the AM band and lower FM band, subject to future decisions regarding broadcasting services for youth.

4. Why reserve spectrum for National Radio and Concert FM?

Radio New Zealand has expressed a desire to broadcast National Radio services on FM and expand the coverage and quality of its programming. The Government has previously agreed that National Radio should be able to migrate to spectrum within the 100-108 MHz band. It is expected that this will free up some of the AM licences currently being used by National Radio in due course.

Concert FM currently broadcasts on frequencies dispersed throughout the lower FM band. Relocating Concert FM to a dedicated block of frequencies in the upper FM would be a more efficient use of spectrum and enable Concert FM to expand its coverage. The transfer would also free-up spectrum in the lower FM band that could be reallocated to other uses.

5. What will the reservations for Maori radio and Pacific Island radio be used for?

Detailed proposals for the use of any spectrum reserved for Maori radio and Pacific Island radio have not yet been developed. These proposals will be developed once submissions on the discussion document have been considered and final decisions on the future of the FM band made.

Proposals for the use of reservations for Maori radio and Pacific Island radio will be developed in consultation with key stakeholders. Licences will not be allocated until detailed and comprehensive proposals outlining appropriate governance and funding arrangements for the delivery of these programmes have been established.

6. Will there be any spectrum available for new commercial licences?

The preliminary proposals for using the 100-108 MHz band do not include provision for new commercial licences. Spectrum in the AM band and lower FM band freed-up as a result of the proposed reservations may be available for auction, however, depending on whether some of this spectrum is required for radio services for youth.

The discussion document seeks feedback on whether spectrum should be made available for new commercial licences.

7. What will happen to existing commercial licences when they expire in 2011?

Existing commercial licences have generally been acquired through auction or tender for a fixed period of 20 years. They are due to expire in 2011 at which time they will revert to the Crown. The Government is currently working through a range of policy options for reallocating licences once they expire.

8. Will there be any reservation for Access and Community radio?

Spectrum in the AM band and lower FM band has previously been reserved for Access and Community radio. Approximately 50% of these reservations are currently being used.

The discussion document seeks views on whether additional spectrum should be reserved for these purposes.

9. Will FM spectrum be available for a Youth Radio network?

The Government is currently working through its policy objectives with respect to broadcasting for youth. It is not clear at this stage whether FM spectrum will be required for a youth radio network. Spectrum can be made available for this purpose if necessary.

10. Who will be able to hear the new programmes?

Feedback is being sought on the coverage objectives for each of the four proposed programmes. This will determine the geographical areas that the programmes will be broadcast in and the percentage of the population that will be able to hear the four programmes. It will also determine how much of the 100-108 MHz spectrum should be set-aside for the four priority programmes and how much will be left over for other uses.

The desired coverage level may be different for each of the four programmes. For example, some programmes may require a high level of population coverage (say 97%), whereas others will be able to reach the target audience by broadcasting in the five main centres.

11. When will I be able to apply for a licence to use 100-108 MHz?

Applications for licences to use 100-108 MHz spectrum and spectrum in the AM band and lower FM band freed-up as a result of the proposed reservations are not being sought at this time. A process for applying for licences to access spectrum will be publicly notified once final policy decisions have been agreed and options for delivering any new programmes further explored.

12. What is low power broadcasting?

Sensitive aeronautical navigation and communication services operate in the spectrum adjacent to the 100-108 MHz band. In order prevent interference with these services, high power FM broadcast services can not be operated at the upper end of the 100-108 MHz band. The 106.6-108 MHz band can be used to provide a range of “low power’ broadcasting services, however. The discussion document seeks public feedback on what these services should be and how licences to use this spectrum should be allocated.

13. What happens next?

Preliminary proposals for the future of the FM band are outlined in the discussion document, “Future of the FM Band”. This is available on the Ministry of Economic Development web-site: www.med.govt.nz.

Submissions on the proposals are sought by 28 September 2001. All submissions received by this date will be carefully considered and used to inform final decisions about the future of the FM band.

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