UK Freeview is not quite so free

July 9, 2012

The UK’s Free-To-Air (FTA) digital terrestrial viewers face one-off fees up to £212 ($320) to deal with interference from the country’s emerging 4G LTE network, in another twist in the ongoing tension between broadcasting and cellular industry.

The UK government wants to avoid meeting the cost at a time its finances are under severe strain, and is reluctant to dump it on mobile operators, which see it as more important for the future than terrestrial broadcasting. This stance is being rigorously opposed both by consumer groups, and broadcasters led by the BBC, which argues that the “polluter must pay” principle should apply, as it does in some other European countries.

“We all wish 4G very well, but this is a hugely profitable business for the companies, it’s a hugely cash-generative business for the government, and the viewer shouldn’t be the party that loses out,” said John Tate, Director of Policy and Strategy at the BBC.

Freeview, itself, pointed out that its customers include the country’s poorer households that cannot afford pay TV and therefore will also find the cost of the 4G filter hard to meet, with some ending with no TV service at all.

“If you don’t have a filter, you literally won’t be able to watch television,” said Ilse Howling, managing director of Freeview. “You will get very significant pixilation, the picture will break up, and you won’t be able to carry on watching Freeview.”

The UK government has, in fact, allocated £180m ($280 million) to tackle the issue, but Freeview contends this will only cover the bare purchase of the filters, and not the higher cost of hiring engineers to install them.

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