A UK Restricted Service Licence (often called an RSL), is typically granted to radio stations and television stations broadcasting within the UK to serve a local community or a special event. Licences are granted by the broadcasting authority Ofcom (formerly the Radio Authority and the Independent Television Commission, respectively).
Main article: History of broadcasting
In 1972, the Independent Broadcasting Authority was created and given responsibility for regulating independent television and radio services in the UK.
Over time, the demand for local services increased, and finally prompted an Act of Parliament to deregulate the respective industries and facilitate new long-term and short-term broadcast licences.
In 1990, the Broadcasting Act 1990 became law, and led to the establishment of two licensing authorities: the Radio Authority to license new radio services and monitor existing licences, and the Independent Television Commission, to license new short-term television services.
While the 1990 act proved successful, licensing procedures to this day remain restrictive compared to those in other countries.
In 2004, the Radio Authority and ITC were folded into the Office of Communications. Today Ofcom handles all licensing for frequencies used by television and radio services.
Until May 2015 short-range broadcasts and wireless links, and other programme makers frequencies were licensed by JFMG (Joint Frequency Management Group), owned by Arqiva. In May 2015 Ofcom made the decision to end the contract with Arqiva and to insource the existing services.
Short-term RSLs are typically broadcast on low-power FM (1 W–25 W) or AM (1 W) and can generally last a maximum of 28 consecutive days and can only be applied for twice in twelve months with four complete months separating the two broadcast periods (and only once in twelve months inside Greater London) by the same applicant/group.
They are generally used for special events, sporting events, religious festivals, student radio, hospital radio or to trial a radio project in preparation for an application for a permanent licence. Long-term RSLs (typically broadcast on low-power AM, but more recently in remote areas on low-power FM as well) are used for radio stations broadcasting to closed areas of private land such as university campuses and hospitals. They can be compared with the Low-power broadcasting movement in the United States.
A number of stations that ran several RSL broadcasts in the 1990s and early 2000s have since gone on to run full-time community radio stations. The first FM RSL was operated by Radio Thamesmead from the 23–24 July 1988. The station later obtained a full-time license operating as RTM Radio.
Some example stations broadcast with RSLs (with more than a single appearance)
RSLs were also issued to television stations and other organisations which wished to cover a very small area. These licences (also known as Restricted Television Service Licences or RTS licences) restrict power, and hence range, but not operating hours. These licences are valid for four years, and must be competed for on renewal.
The first Local TV station to go on the air in the UK with an analogue RSL licence was TV12 on the Isle of Wight. It commenced broadcasting in October 1998 from the main ITV/BBC transmitter at Rowridge. TV12's studios were initially at the Medina Centre in Newport – later moving to retail premises in the town centre and finally a factory unit on the outskirts of the town. Initially a staff of more than 25 made hundreds of hours of local programmes – most of which were filmed on location in and around the island.
Later local TV licences were awarded for stations in Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Carlisle, Coleraine, Derry, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fawley, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Leicester, Limavady, Londonderry, Manchester, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading, Southampton, Swansea, Taunton, Teesside and York.
In light of the national switch-over from analogue to digital TV the television regulator, Ofcom, extended several analogue Local TV licences until local digital switchover became due in each respective area. This process was complete in October 2012. Meanwhile, in February 2009 bids were invited for auctions for the first local digital multiplex licences to be offered in the UK – the first two of which were awarded shortly thereafter. However the awarding of additional licences was halted in favour of a network of local broadcasters.
Note that not all of these services may currently be broadcasting. Some of these stations also broadcast on other platforms such as cable and satellite.
The following are automatically disqualified from holding a restricted service licence: