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BBC under pressure to bankroll DAB rollout

by Sarah Griffiths on 20 October 2010, 16:03

Tags: BBC

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The BBC is under pressure from the culture minister Ed Vaizey and Digital Radio UK to stump up most of the cash needed to roll out the DAB network.

According to The Guardian, Vaizey said Auntie should be DAB's ‘matriarch or patriarch' and should underwrite the rollout of the DAB transmitter network to match the level of coverage provided by FM, which could cost up to £150m.

Vaizey, who was presumably aware to the government's spending review, put pressure on the BBC just ahead of an announcement that the corporation will be hit with a 16 percent funding cut as it is forced to shoulder the cost of the World Service and Welsh speaking channel S4C. Critically, the licence fee has also been fixed at its annual rate of £145.50 until April 2017.

Vaizey reportedly said: "My message to our radio family as it were is that the matriarch or the patriarch in this debate is the BBC. The BBC has to work with me to increase transmitter coverage for digital radio that is a very important part. Coverage is patchy and that's why it's so important to get the network out. I'm talking with the BBC and we are working together. I hope to accelerate the process of digital radio coverage in terms of transmitters and masts."

Ford Ennals, the man heading up the switchover as CEO of Digital Radio UK, said the transmitter network is ‘crucial' to the switchover process but admitted he did not know how it would be funded.

"We have had this conversation with government, we continue to believe that funding will be available to make this buildout happen...The sums of money we are talking about are relatively small if you compare it with television, we are talking sums of £100m to £150m. We do believe that is affordable over the next five years," he reportedly said.

Ennals is said to be hopeful that a plan of how to fund the rollout will be confirmed in the next 6 months, and recommended: the ‘lion's share' of the funding for DAB rollout should come from the BBC, although the BBC has reportedly hinted it might not be able to shoulder the extra cost.