UK Communication Minister Ed Vaizey has confirmed the terms of the £180 million scheme to help householders prevent 4G services interfering with television signals. The scheme was originally announced in February 2012.
In a letter to UK comms regulator Ofcom – which ran a consultation on the issues for digital TV raised by the launch of 4G services – Vaizey says help will be available for the 900,000 digital terrestrial television (DTT) homes which Ofcom estimate will be affected when 4G is introduced next year.
Most TV viewers will be able to solve any problems by fitting a filter, which will be provided free-of-charge by the assistance scheme. But for some homes, an engineer will need to fit the filter to a rooftop aerial. Vaizey confirmed that vouchers will be provided to eligible households to pay for the installation.
In a very limited number of cases where filters cannot improve the TV service, assistance would be provided to switch to free-to-view satellite or to cable TV. Extra support will also be offered to vulnerable consumers.
According to Vaizey, the high speed mobile broadband services which will be launched in the 800MHz spectrum will bring significant economic and social benefits to the UK as a whole and to consumers and businesses.
“Many of those consumers will also be viewers of DTT and some of those will unfortunately have those TV services affected by the LTE services unless action is taken to deal with interference. The Government is keen to mitigate the effects of interference, so that no television viewer loses access to television services,” he said.
Ilse Howling, Managing Director of UK DTT platform Freeview speaking June 26 at the Westminster eForum Keynote Seminar on ‘The future of free-to-air TV’ suggested that the future of the service was at risk should unfavourable decisions be made in terms of the reuse of UHF spectrum and called on the Government urgently to revise its 4G proposals on the levels of support being offered to consumers.
Addressing the Future of Broadcasting Conference the following day, Vaizey refuted Howling’s suggestions that as many as 2.3 million homes risked losing their DTT service, countering that the real number was as little as four to five thousand homes. “We’re on top of the DTT interference issue,” he stated. “We’re working with Ofcom. It’s a very, very small number of consumers who will have to move platform,” he claimed.
Vaizey said that he had met Freeview and discussed the matter. “Mechanisms are in place. We’re helping address the problem. We’re listening to Freeview’s arguments. We’re on top of it. We’re not going to let anyone lose their TV.” He felt that the £180 million was “more than enough” to address the problem, but confirmed that if more was needed “we’ll step up to the plate”.
In response to the Minister’s revised proposals, Howling said that Freeview welcomed the Government’s announcement of additional support, describing this as “a clear omission in earlier proposals,” and noted that, should the costs for protecting people’s television services exceed the £180 million the Government has set aside, Ministers were committed to bearing the risk of any overspend.
“However, we remain concerned that viewers living in flats, many of whom will be on lower incomes, will not be covered by the Government’s plans. Additional TVs will not be supported either. It is unfair for Government to expect viewers to foot the bill to protect their existing services from 4G interference,” she stated. “We also believe it would be in consumers’ interests for the Government and Ofcom to mandate a trial of 4G services in a limited area before proceeding to national roll out.”
She confirmed that Freeview would continue to represent the interests of all its viewers and ensure that when the roll out of 4G mobile broadband begins next year they were not overly inconvenienced, nor have to bear a disproportionate cost.