Why there is an argument to be made for Norway to turn off its FM band

Norway is set to turn off FM broadcasting in a few months. Most Norwegians seem to be against turning it off, based on the argument that the digital radio technology that is to take over, DAB+, is not really needed at all and that eventually everyone will switch to listen to radio over the internet.

Let’s try to make an argument for FM switch off:

Photo: Hihiman, Wikipedia
Photo: Hihiman, Wikipedia
Instead of looking at everything from a “What do Norwegians need” perspective, maybe one should try to look at this from a global perspective. Maybe this makes little sense for Norway by itself, but for the globe, it could make sense to try out whether it’s possible to run an entire country without FM. A country with 0.07% of the world population in which there is more than enough money to buy new technology constantly would not seem overly large for such an experiment.
There is one advantage to digital radio that doesn’t go via conventional web technology:
  • For any one person listening to radio via the web, all the audio data has to be transmitted individually to that listener. If there are 1 million listeners, it has to be transmitted 1 million times. This means online radios are limited in their capacity to broadcast by the size of their internet connection and how many connections their servers can handle. There are some tricks to get around some issues of servers having to send everything to everyone (for example using torrents), but they generally require other users to take the burden of sending the data.
  • And on the receiving end the listener has to pay to receive all that internet data. This cost may be acceptable to most Norwegians, but it’s certainly something that makes it difficult for people in other parts of the world.

Are these sufficient reasons to make Norway switch to DAB+?

I think it would be healthy for Norwegians, those on the Left and otherwise, to look at themselves in a global perspective. Not being part of the European Union seems to have had the effect that many have a very narrow focus on their own immediate needs and not ever wanting to compromise on anything (be that rulesaround whaling, distributing refugees around Europe or letting people move freely across Europe so that also those in low-wage countries can have a chance at jobs in high growth regions). Thinking about DAB+ in those way could be a healthy thought exercise.

Still, I think it’s not a good idea to switch right now, for entirely different reasons: The patents governing parts of the DAB+ technology will only expire in the mid-2020s and a license needs to be paid by any company implementing DAB+ technology. While it’s Ok that the companies behind the technology want to earn something on it, this should have been handled in the form of a one-time payment by the Norwegian government, EU, or some other international institution. It’s not good that a technology which can be freely implemented (FM) is being replaced by law by one where a monopolist earns a license fee that increases with increased usage.

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