Plans for the 4G spectrum rollout came under scrutiny today over the lack of provisions the government was making for TV signal interference caused by the high-speed mobile phone networks.
At a meeting on Tuesday on broadband delivery in the UK, the committee of MPs grilled the government on the measures it was taking to ensure that households would not be out of pocket if they lose their TV signals due to the 4G rollout, with several members pointing to the huge sums set to be raised by the spectrum sell-off.
Ed Vaizey, minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, pointed to the £180m the government has set aside to deal with interference from 4G networks that would cause households nearby a base station to lose their TV signal. He said this sum should more than cover funding to resolve interference issues that the government expected would affect 900,000 households.
However, the committee highlighted discrepancies between the government’s approach and Freeview’s findings. According to Freeview, the figure is nearer to 2.3 million households living within 2km of 4G transmitters who will all need professional filters fitted at a cost of £212.
The panel, consisting of Vaizey and Simon Towler, deputy director of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, conceded there would be a charge of £10 per filter for people with second TV sets, and £150 to have a filter fitted for those with specialist aerial equipment.
However, Towler took issue with Freeview’s 2.3 million figure, explaining that once mobile operators had carried out technical measures at the base station to reduce interference, this number would actually fall to 900,000 affected households.
Vaizey also took issue with Freeview’s claims that every household would have to have a filter fitted by a professional, explaining that the government’s view was that many people would be able to fit the filters themselves. He evaded the committee’s questions over whether the £150 professional fitting cost would be covered by the government, by reiterating it was still unclear who would need outside help and this was under consultation at present.
However, Towler conceded that under the present rules from Ofcom, the government only needed to cover the cost for ‘vulnerable’ people, for which £20m is set aside, leaving the rest of the UK to fork out the £150 to carry on getting a TV picture. He added that this was still under consultation, which would investigate how many people would need more complex filters.
There was also bad news for those living in flats, who would have to rely on their landlord to take responsibility for ensuring a filter was fitted if their TV signal was lost due to 4G interference. Landlords would be provided with a more complex filter to fit themselves, with Towler explaining this would be the same for both private sector landlords and local authority housing.
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