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Freeview 4G interference help scheme 'does not go far enough'

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Almost two million UK homes could face disruption to their digital television signal due to interference with the forthcoming 4G mobile signals, as media groups express concern over the government's scheme to address the problem.

According to estimates, some 1.9m homes receiving digital terrestrial television have the potential to suffer interference when 4G LTE services launch in the UK, either later this year or in 2013.

The government has proposed a £180m scheme to fund solutions to the potential TV interference, which will be funded by the winning mobile operators in the 4G spectrum auction planned by Ofcom later this year.

The help scheme will focus on the 900,000 affected homes that have Freeview only on their main set. The majority of homes will just need to fit a filter that will be supplied via the scheme, including free support for over-75s and people who are registered disabled.

Around 10,000 UK homes on Freeview will need to switch to cable or satellite services to avoid a major degradation in their picture.

Households unable to receive an alternative service to DTT will be offered up to £10,000 each to "find a solution", although that is expected to affect only around 500 homes.

Signals could be affected because the 800MHz spectrum to be auctioned off by Ofcom to enable 4G sits alongside the 700MHz spectrum used for Freeview. It is thought that households within a 2km radius of a 4G mast are most likely to suffer signal disruption.

Media groups are calling on the government to use some of the between £2bn and £3bn expected windfall from the 4G auction to ensure the TV interference help scheme does not fall short of addressing the problems.

"4G is a great development but should not be allowed to interfere with people's TV reception," said John Tate, the BBC's director of policy and strategy.

"There are plans in place that aim to reduce this interference but we believe that sufficient money should be deducted from the 4G auction proceeds to prevent it altogether. This is based on the established principle that the polluter pays."

Critics of the £180m help scheme are concerned that the government has not taken into account the potentially high cost of fitting filters into people's homes, along with the problems of non-standard aerial installations and the "special attention" required for people living in flats and communal dwellings.

The BBC has joined ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Arqiva and the ITV-owned multiplex operator SDN in making submissions to Ofcom over the help scheme concerns.

They are worried that the government's approach has "the potential for many households, particularly in communal dwellings, to be left behind".

Ofcom was told that consumers could also be left with a hefty bill to sort out the interference issues themselves on their primary sets, potentially of up to £100m. This may increase significantly when extended to second sets, the groups said.

In its submission, Arqiva - which manages the UK's transmission architecture - said that viewers could be left with "potential additional costs in excess of £161m when the total installation costs of filters for non-standard aerial installations and the purchase of filters for non-primary sets are combined".

The firm added: "We remain very concerned that disruptions to secondary set users and households that depend on set-top or loft-mounted aerials for their reception have been completely ignored."

Freeview managing director Ilse Howling said in a statement: "We remain concerned that there are a number of issues to be resolved in particular that many households are likely to need professional help installing filters to protect their TVs from interference.

"Ofcom doesn't appear to have taken that into account and we will be raising that as a matter of urgency with government ministers."

Media regulator Ofcom has not yet responded to the submissions.

> Everything Everywhere launches 4G lobbying campaign

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