Vaizey: Chancellor Osborne sought IP broadcast switch

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Ed Vaizey, the former Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, has revealed that George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer between May 2010 and July 2016, sought to move UK broadcasting to IP delivery.

Delivering a closing Keynote Address on the Current Policy Landscape for Digital Communications at the DTG Summit in London, Vaizey suggested that the availability of spectrum and infrastructure would become increasingly important, and that with changing viewing habits, there was likely to be a battle between digital terrestrial television (DTT) and IPTV, with debate about how you could upgrade DTT as a platform to take account of the new technology, to take account of interoperability, the switch from screen to mobile and the availability of ultra-high definition.

“Will there be a switchover to IPTV?” he asked. “When I was in government, George Osborne did want to do a television switchover to IPTV. He thought it was the best way of encouraging the rollout of fibre to the home if we had a fixed date. Maybe there will be a switchover in the next 15 to 20 years, maybe there will be some form of hybrid system. If you think like a politician, a hybrid system is a good thing to bet on because it doesn’t matter if you are providing a service that 90 per cent of the country is ready and happy to receive.”

Vaizey noted the changing viewing that such a move reflected a degree of creative thinking on Osborne’s behalf and the desire of Treasury officials to achieve a policy aim at no cost to the Exchequer. Such a move would also have freed up valuable spectrum for the mobile broadband market.

In November 2014, UK comms regulator Ofcom announced it was to make valuable airwaves available for mobile broadband services, suggesting it was also securing the future of digital terrestrial TV. The decision would allow mobile network operators to use some of the frequencies currently used for digital terrestrial TV services. These frequencies make up the 700 MHz frequency band.

In December 2016, the European Parliament, Council and the Commission agreed that:

  • TV broadcasting will retain priority in the sub-700 MHz band for the foreseeable future, i.e. at least until 2030;
  • A realistic calendar for migrating existing users from the 700 MHz band is adopted, targeting 2020, but acknowledging some Member States may need until 30 June 2022;
  • Measures to support the transition for the sector and for consumers, including the possibility for Member States to compensate migration costs related to the reallocation of the spectrum.

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