Dáil Éireann - Volume 482 - 12 November, 1997
Written Answers. - Digital Television.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
105. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise if she will introduce a dual licensing system for MMDS and deflector operators for the provision of multi-channel television services across the country. [18552/97]
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
150. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the implications, if any, of digital television broadcasting systems in this country; when this technology will be available to households; and the Government's views on the way in which this spectrum will be controlled. [18608/97]
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
151. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the terms of exclusivity offered to MMDS operators at the time of the original licences being granted in the 1980s. [18609/97]
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke) Mary O'Rourke
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 150 and 151 together.
I want to clarify that the Fianna Fáil party made no commitment before the general election to introduce a dual licensing scheme for MMDS and deflector operators.
The legal power under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, to grant licences in respect of television retransmission systems, in common with the power to issue all licences for the use of the radio frequency spectrum, was transferred to the Director of Telecommunications Regulation with effect from 30 June 1997. Any new scheme for the grant of licences to deflector operators would require the making of statutory regulations by the director and would be subject to my consent.
The initiative, therefore, in relation to the introduction of a licensing scheme rests entirely with the director.
In relation to the advent of digital terrestrial broadcasting, on the basis of information available to me, the advent of this technology should be very beneficial. This is primarily because digital technology will enable the delivery of higher  quality services using less frequency space than the current analogue system. This freeing up of frequency space will facilitate the introduction of new television programme services and the provision of other new services.
I cannot be precise about the manner and timing of the introduction of digital television broadcasting because this will be a matter for the Director of Telecommunications Regulation.
In relation to the terms of exclusivity offered to MMDS operators at the time of award of the licences, I would like to set out some background information.
In the late 80s the Minister faced a problem of providing for the provision of nationwide retransmission of UK television in non-cabled areas which would accord with the highest technical and commercial standards. MMDS was adopted as the only technically feasible way of providing this service. UHF retransmission will never be able to deliver UK services to the population at large to the standards set for MMDS.
In considering the MMDS solution the view was taken that the investment necessary for provision of the service would require some form of exclusive franchise to operate in favour of the licensees. Accordingly that is the way that my predecessors proceeded with the planning for MMDS. The invitations to apply for licences referred to “exclusive licenses”, and although the licences themselves are not so described, it was always understood that they were indeed exclusive.
In 1991 the then Minister issued a letter to the managing director of Independent Newspapers which on the face of it gave certain assurances as to the exclusivity of any MMDS licence that might issue in which that company had a direct or indirect interest. The assurances were to the effect that no further or other broadcast or relay within the licences area would be granted for the duration of the MMDS licences.
That is the fact of the matter. However, I have no wish to give a legal interpretation of that letter. The Deputy will be aware that the question of MMDS exclusivity was dealt with in detail in the course of the 1995 High Court action taken by South Coast Community TV and has arisen in the judicial review brought by South Coast which is currently before the High Court. In any event as Deputy Yates is aware, matters related to the issue of licences for MMDS or any other form of radio transmission have now been transferred to the Director of Telecommunications Regulation.
Dáil Éireann 482 Written Answers. Digital Television.