Government Pulls the Plug on DAB

The Swedish government has pulled the plug on digital radio, at least in its current form.

Digital Audio Broadcasting, or DAB, is the official format for digital radio in Europe, and much of the rest of the world. Public broadcaster Swedish Radio, home of Radio Sweden, has been adding more and more DAB channels over the past ten years. Sweden has been second only to Britain in developing the system.

But unlike Britain it is almost impossible to buy a DAB receiver in this country, and without receivers there has been almost no audience. It’s been kind of a chicken and egg effect…retailers won’t sell receivers unless there are more digital stations, and Sweden’s commercial broadcasters have been waiting for the official government announcement that analog FM radio is being phased out before they spend the money to switch to DAB.

Last year an official commission recommended a transition period to the new technology. But now the Swedish government has pulled the plug on the whole project. Minister of Culture Leif Pagrotsky points to the lack of audience, and says it would cost too much to continue broadcasting parallel in both DAB and FM. He says Swedish Radio’s 50 million dollar investment in digital radio was not wasted, and praises the broadcaster for moving forward with radio over the Internet and on new generation mobile telephones, as well as podcasts. Pagrotsky also wants Swedish Radio to put its signals available through digital television systems, something which has only been partially explored.

In response, Swedish Radio Director General Peter Örn says the government’s decision is regrettable. He points out that the initiative for DAB here came not just from the public broadcaster but from the entire industry and public transmitter operator Teracom, and the Swedish parliament allocated funds specifically for developing DAB.