HC Deb 23 May 1985 vol 79 cc487-8W
Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the Government's policy towards the licensing of satellite master antenna television systems for the reception of programme services from low-powered satellites.

Mr. Pattie

My right hon. Friend, the Home Secretary and I have received considerable numbers of representations from cable operators, programme providers and equipment manufacturers in support of the liberalisation of satellite master antenna television systems. We have considered these representations at length particularly because of their implications for wideband cable systems and direct broadcasting by satellite.

We have now concluded that, subject to certain safeguards, some relaxation in the licensing of SMATV and other cable diffusion systems can be permitted. Systems which serve more than one dwelling house or single set of premises will require licences under the Cable and Broadcasting Telecommunications and Wireless Telegraphy Acts and the Cable Authority will be charged with the task of determining whether the licensing of a particular system is consistent with its primary duty of promoting wideband cable systems. For this reason these licences will be restricted in certain cases; the terms of such licences will be shorter; and the operator will be expected to give way in due course to any operator who is granted a wideband franchise by the Cable Authority covering the area in question. The "must carry" rule, involving an obligation to carry DBS and broadcast services, will apply. These principles are elaborated in a detailed guidance note which the Cable Authority is issuing today. All those wishing to operate SMATV and other cable diffusion systems, even if the particular system is confined to a single set of premises, should obtain a copy of that note.

We have further decided that direct reception of low-powered satellite services on a single set of premises may also be permitted. Such reception will require a licence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, but this licence will not carry with it any guarantee that services will be able to be received without interference. Because of this, and the likely size and relatively high cost of a dish currently needed to receive these services, it seems unlikely that this facility will be taken up in the short term by many members of the general public, although some commercial organisations may wish to do so.

Moreover, all those wishing to operate SMATV and other cable diffusion systems should note that, in most circumstances, dishes also require planning permission at present. The Government published proposals in 1984 to amend the general development order to take account of a wide range of recent developments in the telecommunications field; but these changes have not yet been introduced and are unlikely to reduce controls on dishes of the size currently required for low-powered satellite reception.

The low-powered satellite services originating in the United Kingdom at present are primarily intended to be retransmitted by cable systems operating in the United Kingdom, so their content is regulated by the Cable Authority. We expect this pattern to continue. If future services should develop in this country which are intended exclusively for direct reception in the United Kingdom and clearly demonstrate the need for additional regulatory powers, the Government will consider what steps might be necessary to provide the appropriate regulation.

The Government are satisfied that these steps will provide a welcome boost to the cable industry and represent a significant opportunity, both domestically and eventually internationally, for our equipment and programme service industries.