Feature Article

July 18, 2012

BBC, Freeview Want Mobile Phone Operators to Cover Cost of Remedies for Expected UK TV Interference from 4G Service

Freeview and the BBC want to prevent UK Freeview viewers from being forced to pick up the bill to reduce interference on TVs when 4G mobile phone services are rolled out.

Operated by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Arqiva, Freeview – a UK free to air service – provides free digital TV to over 20 million homes in the United Kingdom.

It has been estimated that 2.3 million UK households could experience interference with thier television signals from 4G services – given their distance to signals, according to a company press release.

Deloitte has estimated the cost to maintain current TV services is £200 million (about $312.7 million). That is less than the £180 million (about $281.4 million) fund that was set up to correct the interference problem.

“It is vital that any strategy listens to what consumers want and need,” Ilse Howling, managing director of Freeview, said in the press release. “We strongly believe that the Freeview homes should not be subject to further inconvenience and additional cost to make way for mobile broadband.”

“The Government has committed to recouping the cost of protecting viewers from interference, using proceeds from the 4G mobile auction,” she adds. “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 also points out that most households will not be able to install the needed equipment on their own. Also, the UK government plans to only provide free filters for just one television set for each home. After 4G is offered in the United Kingdom, over 90 percent of UK households will have Freeview on a main or secondary television set.

 John Tate, director of policy and strategy at the BBC, agreed that the cost should be covered by mobile phone companies.

“This is a hugely profitable business for the companies, and hugely cash-generative for the Government, and the viewer shouldn’t be the party that loses out,” Tate said.

The UK government doesn’t want to cover the cost itself because of tight budgets, but government officials are hesitant to require the cost be borne by mobile operators.

Meanwhile, news reports said a filter is needed to be able to watch television once the interference occurs.

“If you don’t have a filter, you literally won’t be able to watch television,” Howling said. “You will get very significant pixilation, the picture will break up, and you won’t be able to carry on watching Freeview.”

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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