Ofcom To Be Told To ‘Consider Social Loss To Communities’

CSV, the operator of the biggest national network of social action broadcasting will urge Ofcom to guarantee that money is not the only factor governing the use of broadcast frequencies being freed up by TV going digital from 2008 to 2012. There is a danger they will be auctioned off.

CSV, which operates its Action Desk network at all BBC radio stations across England, wants to ensure that these TV frequencies, known as spectrum, are not simply sold off to the highest bidder without considering the potential economic and social loss to local communities.

CSV wants future users of these airwaves to apply for short term licenses that can be regularly reviewed to ensure that a minimum requirement for providing content of social value is met.

This comes as the deadline for consultation by communications regulator Ofcom, about the process for allocating this spectrum approaches on Tuesday 20th March, 2007.

Damian Radcliffe, CSV’s National Broadcast and Development Manager, said: “The release of this spare capacity should benefit communities and not be squandered. The challenge is to ensure that this valuable resource is not simply sold to the highest bidder. Rather than auctioning off the airwaves, we would prefer short-term licences to be awarded that include quotas for providing social value.”

Social action broadcasting has a strong track record in motivating people to tackle crime, improve health and to transform the environment. An estimated £22.6 billion a year is contributed by the 26 million people who currently volunteer in England and Wales. Social action broadcasting could help unlock up to £9.56 billion a year amongst an additional 11 million people who would like to volunteer but do not have the opportunities, information or means to do so.

CSV Action Desks are one of a number of organisations presenting their concerns through a combined response being prepared by Public Voice (2), the voluntary sector’s principal coalition campaigning for citizens’ interests in relation to communications.

As part of the response, CSV is underlining the value of existing social action broadcasting by drawing on the experience of its national network of Action Desks hosted by the BBC. The social value includes:

  • Tackling Crime: Crime has been reduced in an area of Gloucestershire that had been portrayed as a youth crime hotspot. The main cause of vandalism was put down to boredom and lack of resources for young people. CSV’s Action Desk worked with residents, businesses, youth workers and young people themselves to plan, create and design a new youth centre in a redundant pavilion
  • Environment: Over 4,000 volunteers have transformed more than 100 parks, gardens, canals and playgrounds for CSV Action Desks.
  • Foreign Aid: Hundreds of thousands of survival kits, books clothes and toys have been sent to the developing world.
  • Heritage: 1,700 volunteers helped collect more than 17,000 stories for the BBC People’s War project that aimed to preserve the public’s memories of World War II in a permanent online archive.
  • Health and social care: 55 families came forward to offer a home for young people in care as part of a foster care campaign coordinated by CSV at BBC Southern Counties.

The full response by Public Voice details nine additional indicators of social value that with further research could be used as part of the criteria for awarding licences.

Damian Radcliffe, said: “At the moment, the nation faces large bills for social issues that could benefit from targeted use of the spectrum to be released. For instance, in addition to the £9.56 billion that could be contributed to the economy by helping to match people who want to volunteer with opportunities to do so, lack of basic skills training is currently costing the UK economy more than £10 billion.

“In addition to handling over 170,000 calls in response to volunteer appeals, CSV’s Action Desk Network over the last five years has helped 145,000 people get involved in life-long learning, a potential that could be dramatically expanded if spectrum was required to carry social value.”