Residents whose TV signal is affected by the 4G roll-out may have to pay for their own solutions to the problem, according to the government minister responsible.
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The spectrum freed up by the TV switchover from analogue to digital will be auctioned by Ofcom to provide mobile operators with new bands for the delivery of 4G networks across the UK – and to bring in a lot of cash for the government.
The problem is, when the 800MHz signal goes live it may interfere with a number of Freeview customers using 700MHz for their TV signal, as the two bands reside so close together.
The government has set aside £180m to help residents affected by the switchover pay for filters to be attached to set-top boxes or cover installation if professionals need to be brought in to fit a device for household aerials.
However, the estimates of how many households are likely to be affected range widely, from the 900,000 the government has stated to the 2.3 million Freeview claimed will suffer, and questions are being raised as to whether the fund will be enough.
We don't want people left without TV reception, and I am not going to let that happen
Ed Vaizey, minister for culture, communications and creative industries
Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, today told the House of Commons select committee for culture, media and sport that £180m is a “generous figure”, but admitted it was an estimate of how much would be needed and promised the government would “make up for the shortfall” if it cost any more.
“We don’t want people left without TV reception, and I am not going to let that happen,” he added.
Funding for first TV only
However, Vaizey also revealed the funding put aside to help households fix the issue would only cover those using Freeview for their primary television, meaning anyone who has satellite or cable, but uses Freeview elsewhere in the house, will have to pay upwards of £150 for a filter and installation.
“We have taken the position to cover main television sets,” he said. “Some will say all sets should be covered, but we haven’t taken that position,” he added.
John Whittingdale, Conservative MP and chairman of the committee, debated this position with Vaizey, claiming those with more than one television could be left without a signal “through no fault of their own”, and if they need to have a filter installed might face a bill upwards of £150 or need to pay out even more for extra cable and satellite boxes across their homes.
Vaizey moved a little, saying the government was still in the consultation period of how to tackle this problem with Ofcom, but defended the position by adding: “Filters are very low cost, so if we allow for people with eight or 10 TVs in their house, should that be covered by the taxpayer? I don’t know if [it should].”
Freeview homes should not be subject to further inconvenience and additional cost to make way for mobile broadband
Ilse Howling, managing director, Freeview
Ilse Howling, managing director of Freeview, called on Vaizey and the government to “listen to what consumers want and need”, rather than leaving them to foot the bill while mobile operators and the government count the proceeds.
“We strongly believe that Freeview homes should not be subject to further inconvenience and additional cost to make way for mobile broadband,” she said.
“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," added Howling. "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.”
The 4G roll-out in this spectrum band is not expected until late 2013 or early 2014, so the government has time to work on the consultation with Ofcom and on its position. However, Vaizey hopes intervention at base stations by mobile operators will keep the number of residents affected to a minimum and that the £180m will tackle the rest.