Vaizey: 4G Filter Assistance Vouchers for "Vulnerable Consumers"

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey has announced the terms for the £180 million scheme to help householders avoid interference from the new 4G mobile network, originally announced in February. 

"Vulnerable consumers" would receive a £60 voucher to spend on getting assistance from an engineer to install a filter, for example in homes where the filter would have to be attached in the loft or on the roof.

The scheme would take £180 million from the total amount raised auctioning the spectrum to mobile network operators. The mobile network operators would become stakeholders in an organisation similar to Digital UK, nick-named "MitCo", which would be responsible for providing mitigation against 4G interference.

In a letter to regular Ofcom, the minister announced that help "will be available for the 900,000 digital terrestrial television (DTT) homes which Ofcom estimate will be affected when 4G is introduced next year." 4G will use frequencies previously allocated to TV services, and will sit very close to remaining TV frequencies, causing interference.

Acknowledging recent criticism lead by terrestrial broadcasters and Freeview's managing director Ilse Howling, it has been confirmed that the scheme will offer help to certain households. According to the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS), " for some homes, an engineer will need to fit the filter to a rooftop aerial. Mr Vaizey today confirmed that vouchers will be provided to eligible households to pay for the installation.

In a very limited number of cases where filters cannot improve the TV service, assistance would be provided to switch to free-to-view satellite or to cable TV. Extra support will also be offered to vulnerable consumers."

Under the proposals, customers who met the criteria for help under the Switchover Help Scheme would also be eligible for this additional interference mitigation assistance.

In the letter, Mr Vaizey said: “The high speed mobile broadband services which will be launched in the 800MHz spectrum will bring significant economic and social benefits to the UK as a whole and to consumers and businesses.

“Many of those consumers will also be viewers of DTT and some of those will unfortunately have those TV services affected by the LTE services unless action is taken to deal with interference.

“The Government is keen to mitigate the effects of interference, so that no television viewer loses access to television services.”

Critics of the scheme note that the proposals still leave out viewers using set top aerials and that there has been no clarification as to how users of communal aerials are likely to be helped, with concerns that landlords will have to foot the bill. Additional TVs in households would still not be covered, with the minister maintaining that "many houses that receive a free filter will be using cable or satellite for their primary set, so they will be able to use the filter for their second set."

Concluding the letter, the minister stated that he was "confident" there would be enough money in the £180m pot to mitigate against interference, with the possibility of unspent money from the mitigation scheme returning to the 4G mobile network operators.

More reading:
The letter sent by the Communications Minister to Ofcom.
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