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TV industry warns over 4G mobile interference risk

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TV industry bodies, including Freeview and Arqiva, have today called on the government to run a pilot scheme to asses the potential impact of 4G mobile on UK digital terrestrial television signals.

Up to 2.3m UK homes could be left with a "blank screen" due to interference on the TV picture from 4G mobile signals, which may launch in the UK as early as this year.

The government has proposed an £180m scheme for providing solutions to the potential TV interference, which would be funded by the winning mobile operators in the 4G spectrum auction to be held by Ofcom later this year.

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

However, around 10,000 UK homes on Freeview are likely to need to switch over to cable or satellite services to avoid a major degradation in their picture.

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.

TV industry bodies believe that the government's help scheme plans do not go far enough. They are calling on ministers to instead 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.

They feel that this should include assuring all viewers that they won't have to pay for the disruption - something that is lacking in the current £180m scheme proposal.

There is particular concern over the lack of clear guidance on measures to address problems on secondary TV sets and potential complications deriving from multi-domicile buildings, such as flat blocks.

Speaking today (June 26) at the Westminster eForum in London, Freeview managing director Ilse Howling repeated previous criticisms of the government's proposed arrangement to address the potential 4G television interference.

Howling believes that the government should set up a pilot scheme to gauge the true potential impact.

"The principle of 'the polluter pays' should be upheld. People have bought into Freeview with enthusiasm and good faith and have made significant investment in Freeview equipment through digital switchover," she said.

"They should not be expected to foot the bill for 4G in terms of paying for installation and filters to solve interference issues.

"Furthermore, it is essential that government ensures a pilot scheme to fully investigate the impact of 4G on DTT services is incorporated into rollout plans for mobile broadband services."

Also speaking at the event, representatives of other TV industry bodies warned that £180m will be "inadequate" to address the problems.

"To UK citizens, DTT, like our parks and open spaces is a national asset," said Professor Sylvia Harvey, speaking on behalf of the Voice of the Listener & Viewer.

"Government should safeguard them with equal respect and ensure adequate funding is in place to mitigate interference from the roll-out of 4G, or millions of Freeview homes could be faced with blank TV screens. £180m is quite inadequate."

Charles Constable, the managing director of digital platforms at UK transmissions operator Arqiva, added: "Viewers are entitled to be certain that they continue to receive the services they get now without having to put their hands in their pockets.

"The government's current proposals do not go far enough; they will leave people watching Freeview on secondary sets unsupported, and in many cases does not cover the cost of installing filters."

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