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The Broadcasting (Radio Multiplex Services) Bill is a private member’s bill introduced in the House of Commons by Kevin Foster (Conservative MP for Torbay) on 4 July 2016. The Bill was drafted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)  and completed its stages in the House of Commons without amendment. The Bill is sponsored in the House of Lords by Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Conservative) and is scheduled for its second reading on 24 February 2017.

The Bill seeks to enable community radio stations in the UK to broadcast on the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio platform. To enable this, the Bill would create powers to modify the current regulatory framework for the licensing of radio multiplex services, and provide for small-scale radio multiplex services.

All DAB radio services in the UK are broadcast as ‘multiplexes’. This is where sound signals from a number of individual radio stations are combined together and transmitted as digital data. Unlike analogue radio (FM and AM), the DAB multiplex can be broadcast from many different transmitters using the same transmission frequency. DAB is therefore a more efficient use of radio spectrum than analogue, and enables more radio services to be delivered to listeners.

Radio multiplex services are licensed by Ofcom and, currently, the licences are awarded either for national coverage or for local county-sized coverage. According to Ofcom, the costs of these carriages are not economical for stations which seek to serve smaller towns or communities.  The Bill would essentially create a third tier in the system of radio multiplexes: new small scale radio multiplexes for sub-county level transmission (or wider transmission where there was no existing local multiplex licensee).

This briefing provides a short overview of the Bill, its key provisions, and a summary of its passage through the House of Commons.

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