Media frenzy following BBC and Freeview relevations about cost of protecting against 4G interference

The BBC and Freeview have told The Independent that some households will have to pay up to £212 to rid themselves of the interference created by the forthcoming 4G networks in the UK.

Front page, "i" 30/06/2012

Freeview (the organisation set up by broadcasters and multiplex operators to promote free-to-air digital terrestrial television) and the BBC have reportedly expressed their anger at the Government's "apparant determination to dump the costs of installing signal filter equipment on householders" instead of letting the 4G mobile phone operators, who are causing the interference pay the bill.

The story has created a media frenzy today and a flurry of online debate with numerous newspapers including the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph picking up on the story, which has already frequently appeared in different forms.

In a soundbite designed to excite tabloid editors, Ilse Howling, the managing director of Freeview, said "They are stopping people watching Coronation Street". The BBC's director of policy and stategy John Tate maintained that the problem should be dealt with on a "poluter pays" basis.

Worst affected viewers are those living within 2km or around 1.24 miles of a 4G base station, where the 4G interference would cause pixelation on TV services on nearby frequencies. According to the latest estimates 657,000 households would be affected in London; 202,000 in the Midlands; 188,000 in north-west England plus another 157,000 in Yorkshire and 162,000 in the STV Central Scotland region. Areas where TV services use the 700MHz band, directly under the 800MHz being cleared for 4G would be at a distinct disadvantage.

4G will start using frequencies currently still used for TV signals. A clearance programme commences this October and will run for just over a year moving remaining TV services out of the 800 MHz band. However, aerials and TV sets - even the latest state-of-the-art devices, are all capable of receiving services in the 800 MHz band and require a filter to be added to drown out the interference from a 4G base station, and probably from a nearby 4G handset or dongle.

The Government has so far only proposed to set aside £180 million from the money it will take from successful 4G/LTE spectrum bidders. In the currently proposed scheme, only one filter would be provided per household, so secondary sets would not be covered. There would be only limited technical support available, and practically no support for those living in flats using communal aerials. This has led to fears that particularly the elderly, technophobes and poorer households - households who are more likely to rely on Freeview in the first place - would be left without a TV service or with a filter, but no idea on how and where to install it. 

Freeview has a high proportion of viewers in the above categories who are among the least likely to have pay TV services, internet or smartphones.

This latest call from the BBC and Freeview follows similar calls from all the major terrestrial broadcasters and even Arqiva, who run the UK transmitter network and also provide sites for mobile base stations. As reported here in May, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV) states it was "seriously alarmed" at the proposals in its submission to Ofcom on the issue.

Read more:

Analysis: 4G interference

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