Government faces digital radio switchover backlash unless it acts now - Lords

The government faces a 'major public reaction' to the switchover to digital radio in 2015 unless it starts making the case now

The switchover is likely to make between 50 million and 100 million analogue FM radios largely redundant when national and regional stations switch to all-digital output. Up to 20 million car radios could also be affected.

The Committee says there is ‘public confusion and industry uncertainty’ over radio switchover, and is concerned that people are still buying analogue radios due to lack of public information. Retailers told the Committee that they are not getting adequate information about the switchover plans so are unable to offer consumers accurate guidance when making purchases. The report also points out that car makers are still fitting analogue radios in new cars and that digital radios will not be fitted as standard in all cars until 2013.

Lord Fowler, chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, said:

"Virtually all the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee spoke of the need for greater clarity of policy in digital radio switchover. In particular the public are not being told what radio switchover will mean for them. It is urgent that the government now settle policy and in addition step up their efforts to inform the public. There is a danger of a public backlash if this is no done.”

The Committee contrast radio switchover with the television switchover programme. They found that the benefits of TV switchover were well understood, particularly as it enabled viewers to access new channels, but that people are happy with FM radios and the channel choice they provide.

The Committee says the government should provide a detailed plan for universal digital radio coverage including how it is to be funded, develop a policy for the long-term use of FM, and devise a help scheme for radio switchover paid for through general taxation. It also recommends that car radios are fitted with multi-standard chips so that  they can be used outside the UK, and encourage radio manufacturers and retailers to devise a scrappage scheme for old  analogue radios.

The report concludes that given the  investment already made in digital radio, reversing  current policy would turn “confusion into an utter shambles”. Although achieving radio switchover in 2015 is ambitious, it does not favour a change of target date.

The report is available here

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