Ofcom explains how Government funding package for wireless microphone users will work

05 August 2010

Ofcom today announced the details of how Government funding will be made available to the Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) sector to support its migration from channel 69 to channel 38. This follows the Government's decision last month on the level and nature of this funding, which will contribute to the cost of modifying or purchasing equipment.

Wireless microphones and other wireless equipment that uses channel 69 are being cleared from this part of the 800 MHz band. Countries across Europe are clearing these airwaves to make way for new services like next-generation mobile broadband. Citizens and consumers in the UK stand to significantly benefit from this, especially those that live in the countryside, where the roll-out of broadband and mobile services has been more challenging.

In June last year Ofcom announced a replacement channel for those affected, called channel 38. This will be available to PMSE users on a UK-wide interference-free basis. Ofcom had previously proposed that PMSE users would have protected access to this channel until 2018; however it has since made a commitment to extend this period. And because it operates at lower frequencies, it may offer some benefits over channel 69. These include increased battery life and operational range for equipment.

Some equipment that currently operates in channel 69 can be modified to work in channel 38. Additionally, some equipment can be retuned, without modification, to spectrum called channel 70 that is shared with other users at no cost and without the need for a licence. This could be suitable for non-professional users, such as churches, pubs and community organisations.

However, most equipment will need to be replaced. And on 28 July 2010, the Government announced that it will be providing a contribution towards the cost of new equipment. This will mean those affected will receive roughly 55% of the cost of replacing their equipment.

The age of existing equipment will not change the amount of funding given out. Also, there will be a simpler process for small claims, for equipment with a total replacement value of under £6000. If equipment can be modified at no more than the amount that would have been paid as a contribution to the cost of replacement, the funding scheme will meet the full costs involved. People that are not VAT-registered will receive a 20% adjustment in funding to reflect that they are not able to offset or reclaim VAT on their purchases*.

The full statement published today by Ofcom gives more information on who is eligible for funding, how it will be calculated, and the process for making a claim.

Questions and answers

Who is eligible?

To be eligible for funding, users must have held a channel 69 licence on 2 February 2009 (when Ofcom gave notice that it planned to clear channel 69), or in the 12 months before this date. The only exception to this requirement is unlicensed hiring companies who can prove that they do not require a licence.

Eligible users will only be able to receive funding for working equipment that tunes to channel 69 but not channel 38 (before modification). They must have bought that equipment before 30 June 2009 (when Ofcom confirmed channel 38 as the replacement for channel 69).

How much money will people get?

The amount of funding people get will depend on the type of equipment they own, when they choose to process their claim, whether they surrender or modify their equipment and whether or not they are VAT-registered.

Eligible users who surrender their equipment will receive roughly 55% of the cost of the equivalent replacement. Funding will be slightly higher the earlier a claim is processed.

This amount is equal to the cost of the new equipment less the discounted remaining value of this equipment in 2018 - the year in which the user should have expected to replace equipment anyway.

What channels can people use in replacement of 69?

PMSE users will have UK-wide primary access to channel 69 to at least 1 July 2012 and in London, Northern Ireland and the north-east of England (the Tyne Tees television region) to at least 1 October 2012. Some of the alternatives are:
  • Channel 38: Channel 38 is the replacement channel that is being made available on a UK-wide basis. This channel is already usable - and used - by the PMSE sector. Shared licences are now available for channel 38 (alongside channel 69 and with frequencies from channels 39 and 40 included where channel 38 is not yet fully available). This allows most indoor users the flexibility to move around the whole of the UK with a single licence. There are, however, some minor restrictions on outdoor use in north west England and Cambridgeshire because of the need to protect radioastronomy use there. These will be removed in September 2011, when channel 38 will be available on a UK-wide basis both indoor and outdoor. Many PMSE users will therefore be able to move to channel 38 as soon as they have bought new equipment or modified their existing equipment. Others, especially those who operate outdoors in areas where capacity in channels 38 to 40 is significantly limited, may choose to wait until September 2011 when channel 38 becomes  available on a UK-wide basis. A map in the funding statement shows that wireless microphone users should be able to deploy up to 7 microphones across the UK from September 2011.
  • Channel 70: Some channel 69 equipment can be retuned to channel 70 (863-865 MHz) without modification. Channel 70 will continue to be available for wireless microphone use on a free and licence-exempt basis with no guaranteed protection from interference from services in the same or a nearby frequency. If PMSE users (especially non-professional and community) can operate in spectrum that does not always offer broadcast quality and need to use no more than three microphones at one time, they may want to move to channel 70. However Ofcom is currently looking at whether there will be an increased risk of harmful interference to wireless microphones using channel 70 when new mobile services rollout in the 800 MHz band. Ofcom will publish more information on this when this work is complete.
  • Interleaved spectrum: Some users will need exclusive use of certain frequencies in particular places (for example, those recording sound for professional film or TV productions) and will therefore need to operate using co-ordinated licences. These users will be able to operate within interleaved spectrum - the frequencies available on a shared basis with terrestrial television - as co-ordinated licences will not be available for channel 38. Ofcom has made a provisional technical assessment of how much interleaved spectrum will be available for PMSE use post-DSO and is confident that this quantity will be sufficient to more than satisfy the peak PMSE demand that has been seen in the past. Ofcom will announce more details after it has finished international negotiations to clear the 800 MHz band later this year.

When will the funding scheme start?

First,  users will need to register their claims through our appointed PMSE funding scheme administrator, Equiniti Ltd. Users will be asked to provide details of all the channel 69 equipment they own and want to claim for, whether they want to give it up or modify it, when they want the claim to be processed and in how many batches.

Registration will open on 23 September and close at the end of December 2010. The scheme administrator will be available to support PMSE users, through the dedicated website www.pmsefunding.co.uk, or on 0800 011 3617.

Users can visit the website now to find out about the scheme and review the rate card. The rate card shows how much funding is available for each item of relevant channel 69 equipment. PMSE users are invited to check the information included in the rate card and suggest factual corrections to the scheme administrator, but any factual corrections must be received by 2 September. Thereafter, Ofcom will review any suggested corrections and decide whether the rate card should be amended.

When the PMSE funding scheme administrator processes the claim it will check that it meets the criteria of the scheme and then pay out the funding. Users can ask that their claim is processed at any time between January 2011 and December 2012, and it can be done in batches if required. For example, a user may want to claim for half of their channel 69 equipment inventory in July 2011 and the other half in October 2012 after the London Olympics.

It is in users' interest to register. If they do not register, the claim cannot be processed. But registration does not mean the user has to accept any offer of funding or to give up their equipment unless they want to.

When can people expect to get the funding?

Ofcom expects to start paying out funding to those who are eligible from March 2011 onwards. * Ofcom will use the 20% VAT rate which will be introduced on 4 January 2011 as it expects to begin funding payments in March 2011.

ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.
  2. For further information about Ofcom please visit: www.ofcom.org.uk. Ofcom’s news releases can be found at: media.ofcom.org.uk

CONTACT

Ofcom ofcomnews@ofcom.org.uk (+44) (0)300 123 4000