Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) is seriously alarmed at the prospect that viewers in well over two million homes - many of whom currently receive their television programmes via Freeview – may suddenly be facing blank screens. At present Freeview users have secure, free access to all the public service broadcasters, including the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, as well as a range of other free programmes.
This could change as the Government is proposing to sell frequencies currently used for digital terrestrial TV to mobile phone companies, with the aim of improving 'on-the-move' internet access.
Around one in ten British households could be affected badly by these changes with those now receiving their TV signals 'free-to-air', via a rooftop aerial, finding their reception interfered with or unavailable. The Government is proposing various forms of assistance for these homes but this will only be for a limited period of time and householders may find - too late - that they are no longer able to switch from subscription to free-to-air television. Many will be pushed towards subscription television or the installation of a Freesat dish.
It seems to VLV that despite the elaborate and costly plans for digital switchover, little if anything was done to alert home-owners and viewers to the possible adverse consequences of frequency sales to mobile providers. And credible estimates of the scale of the problem have not been provided. Only last year (June 2011) Ofcom presented research showing that 760,000 television households could be adversely affected; by February of this year that figure had trebled to 2.3 million.
VLV considers that this situation constitutes a major threat to the principle of universal provision in public service broadcasting, removing from some citizens the right of access to high quality information and entertainment, free at the point of reception. Instead we are faced with a situation where those millions of people who transferred from analogue to digital TV, in good faith, are faced with a kind of mis-selling - the unforeseen loss of highly valued services. This is all the more lamentable because successive governments have allocated BBC licence fee-payers’ money to pay for what was intended to be an effective and smooth transition to a satisfactory long-term solution.