4G networks could interrupt TV signals for almost two million households in the UK.
In a written answer to a parliamentary question from Conservative MP Anna Soubry, minister for culture, communications and the creative industries Ed Vaizey admitted 4G networks could cause issues with 945,000 signal amplifiers for TVs, as well as 953,000 households who use communal aerials.
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The figures follow a consultation by Ofcom that ended in April this year to find out the impact of 4G on the 800MHz spectrum, which is set to go up for auction to mobile operators later this year.
Sophie Chalk, spokeswoman for consumer interest group Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV), said : "These proposals to sell spectrum to mobile phone operators in order to raise millions for the Treasury could remove the option of free-to-air television from millions of viewers.”
“This runs completely against the UK's system of public service broadcasting whereby there is universal access for all citizens to programmes made by the main terrestrial channels. It is an outrage.”
Vaizey claimed Ofcom's substantial numbers could be reduced to 5,100 signal amplifiers and 3,400 households using communal aerials, were consumer-based and selective mobile network-based mitigation methods to be applied.
A full statement on the effects is due from Ofcom in the summer, but Vaizey said it was an operational issue for Ofcom which, as a regulator, “is accountable to parliament rather than ministers.”
VLV is calling on government to rethink its plans and ensure no consumers have to pay extra for free-to-air TV channels, which many access through Freeview boxes via the affected aerials.
The revelation adds to the ongoing controversy around 4G coverage. The UK is far behind other nations when it comes to the adoption of the faster mobile network technology, with 34 countries, including the US, Sweden and South Korea, already enjoying the benefits.
However, the argument over the allocation of spectrum freed up by the digital switchover also led to numerous delays for a spectrum auction, which is now expected to happen later this year.
All the major mobile operators are vying for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands for their own 4G networks, but Everything Everywhere has caused more upset by saying it would use its existing spectrum allocation to speed up the timeframe of delivering 4G technology.
As a result, all the other operators are claiming the company – born from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange – would have an unfair advantage if Ofcom allowed it to go ahead, despite the regulator has already approved it in principal.