Freeview: TV viewers shouldn’t foot 4G bill

Freeview MD Ilse Howling

Freeview, the UK’s free-to-air digital TV platform, has suggested that mobile operators should bear the cost of protecting viewers’ TV services. Noting that 2.3 million households are at risk of losing their digital TV signal from 4G interference, Freeview has called on the Government urgently to revise its 4G proposals on the levels of support being offered to consumers.

At a Parliamentary briefing, the UK’s biggest digital television provider has asked for clarity from Government so that the timetable for rolling out 4G is not delayed and TV services for viewers are protected.

Freeview, which currently provides free digital TV to over 20 million homes in the UK, is concerned that the Government commitment to securing a £180 million fund to pay for countering the effects of interference does not go far enough to meet consumer needs. Based on figures calculated by Deloitte for the Ofcom consultation, however, industry estimates put the cost to consumers at up to £200 million to maintain the TV services they currently have.

Freeview is requesting that Government and comms regulator Ofcom recognise that consumers should not have to pick up the bill to resolve interference with their Freeview service and revise their proposals so that the mobile operators are responsible for the full costs associated with protecting viewers’ TV services.

Ilse Howling, Managing Director of Freeview, said it was vital that any strategy listens to what consumers want and need. “We strongly believe that the Freeview homes should not be subject to further inconvenience and additional cost to make way for mobile broadband,” she asserted. “The Government has committed to recouping the cost of protecting viewers from interference, using proceeds from the 4G mobile auction. However, this will still leave viewers to bear a substantial proportion of the cost. The mobile phone operators will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this new service, and we believe that they should pay to mitigate the television interference according to the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”

Freeview is calling on Government to address concerns regarding:

  1. Costs affecting consumers with second sets – currently, the Government plans to supply free filters only for the main TV set in the home. However, latest BARB figures estimate the number of additional Freeview sets to be as high as 21 million.
  2. Costs and inconvenience affecting consumers who live in multiple dwelling units – the Government will not be providing installation support for filters to affected households unless they qualify as vulnerable consumers. However, 83 per cent of affected homes use either an amplifier or are reliant on a communal aerial system which would need professional installation support, involving considerable cost.
  3. Support for the elderly – while almost 40 per cent of Freeview’s viewers are over 65, only 39 interviews with those aged 65+ were considered by Ofcom in concluding if the majority of people within this age bracket would find installing a filter themselves straightforward. Moreover, whether local authority care homes and other public buildings will be eligible for support is unclear.

Freeview points out that new research suggests that 4G services are much less relevant to Freeview homes than the population as a whole. 70 per cent of Freeview homes do not own a smart device and 86 per cent of Freeview homes would be unhappy if 4G mobile services interfered with their television signal. As such, the people most likely to be affected adversely by interference to the existing television reception are those who have the least interest in the new service.

Howling described free, quality television as part of the nation’s DNA. “Almost 90 per cent of Freeview homes and 75 per cent of second set homes would be unhappy if Freeview were no longer available. It is crucial that as an industry we don’t turn a blind eye to consumers but ensure that technology evolves in line with what people want. It is critically important that the government finds the best way to get both: protecting free TV and addressing the need for super-fast broadband,” she stated.

 

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