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    A Bill to amend the Broadcasting and Radio Re-Diffusion Act, which seeks to expand the categories of broadcasting licences available under the Act and also to recognize independent programme providers as licencees within the cable framework, was passed in the Senate on July 25.
    Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bill, informed that it was previously passed in the Senate in 2006, but was not debated in the Lower House, pending bi-partisan support and discussion. She noted that the lapse of time “has provided a further opportunity to refine this amendment Bill and also, it allows for further consultations within the industry.”
    The Senator noted further that the changes within the broadcasting industry have been so rapid, that much of the concerns expressed in the Lower House when the Bill was eventually discussed, have been overtaken by other events. “There have been so many changes in the landscape, that the concerns are no longer necessary,” she pointed out.
    “I am advised that the previous objections raised by the Media Association of Jamaica, with respect to distinctions and concerns, as then existed between the free-to-air television and free-to-air radio, cable operators and the newly proposed licencees – the independent programme providers – have now been resolved,” Senator Lightbourne informed.
    She said this Bill is now the first step in regulating the industry in a manner, which would offer growth and economic opportunities for the country. “Bringing the independent programme providers into a regulatory framework is seen as a critical plank in supporting and accelerating growth in the sector. The amendments contained in this Bill also respond to the need to provide for differentiated broadcasting licences, in order to facilitate entrepreneurs and organisations in making targeted choices from the point of entry into broadcasting,” she added.
    The Bill proposes nine categories of broadcasting licences, which the Senator said, is a significant change to the Act in its current form. “At present, the legislation only allows a grant of commercial broadcasting licence in either television or radio. The amendment is to have the legislation updated to reflect and highlight the need to create content-specific programmes to geographical communities on one hand and cultural communities on the other. It is also to provide opportunities in radio and television for public service broadcasting at both the regional and islandwide levels. In all instances, the legislation provides for commercial and non-commercial operations,” she explained.
    She noted that the first of these amendments would now allow for a commercial sound broadcasting islandwide licence, which has always been available under the Act, and captures radio services being operated for profit, but was not regulated.
    “So, one of the first additions that this Bill brings to the Act, is the commercial sound broadcasting limited area licence. Over the years, there have been several applications for commercial radio licences where the applicant only wants to broadcast to a particular geographical area. The inclusion of a specific category of licence for a limited area, will therefore regularize this situation, and so we will now have a commercial sound broadcasting limited area licence, so that if the person wishes to just broadcast in, say Manchester, a specific area, the licence will provide for that,” Miss Lightbourne pointed out.
    “Also, we now have the commercial television broadcasting islandwide licences. This is currently available under the Act, but added to this will now be commercial television broadcasting with limited area licences. The Bill now makes provision for applications for licence to provide free-to-air television service to particular parishes, counties, regions, by the introduction of the commercial television broadcasting limited area licence,” she informed.
    A third type of licence now being offered is the public service, non-commercial islandwide licence. This licence will be available to persons wishing to operate a not-for-profit islandwide radio or television station with programming of a public service nature. “The term non-commercial is defined as an operation which realises a maximum of 30 per cent of its revenue from advertising,” the Senator noted.
    “The fourth type, the public service, non-commercial limited area licence, will be issued to persons who will provide this service to a defined area only as obtains in community broadcasting. The fifth type of licence will be the public service islandwide licence and will be awarded where a public service-type content is awarded islandwide, on a commercial basis. From this licence, however, the licencee will earn over 30 per cent of its revenue from advertising,” she said.
    The sixth is the public service commercial limited area licence and this will depend on commercial revenue for sustainability, but will offer services over a limited area – specified parishes and communities only. The seventh, she noted, is the international relay service licence, “and this is really to give a new name to what already exists. It is to give this name to licencees who provide relay services. A change is made from referring to these licences as special broadcasting licences…and as before, will be available to applicants wishing to cover programming directly relayed from other countries.”
    An eighth type is the special subscriber television service licence. “With respect to cable, and having regard to rapidly changing technologies, it is considered prudent to provide for the granting of a technology neutral subscriber television licence. Currently, the Act provides for subscriber television licences – wired and wireless. The amendment will seek therefore to ensure that whatever the technology that is used in the future, it will make adequate provision for such technology in law for them,” Senator Lightbourne explained.
    The Bill also seeks to recognize three new categories of licences, which will fall within the cable regulatory framework. One such category is the independent programme provider licence, which will be available to providers who are engaged in the business of content development for purposes of programming on cable systems.
    The other category proposed in the Bill, is the independent programme provider – subscription only licence – that considers a provider who offers a premium-nature product and operates on the basis of subscription revenue only. “This also offers a source of alternative revenue to a provider who will not be able to access advertising revenue in the new regime, as will be the case where the proposed content does not fall within the category being promoted and encouraged,” the Senator noted.
    Another type of licence within the cable regulation, is the subscriber television programme provider. This programme provider represents those subscriber television or cable operators who would wish to also programme channels on their own system on a non-commercial basis. Such a provider would be registered and certified with the Broadcasting Commission and would not be allowed to have advertising revenue.

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