Britain: Spectrum Battle a Generational Issue

HD suddenly portrayed as a medium for senior citizens? How soon they forget.

As the Sunday Times of London tells it, the "Battle of Britain" over digital spectrum could be a choice between watching sports in HD by the older generation on one hand, and repurposed TV content for the younger generation on cell phones and MP3 players on the other.

The Times said "near the picturesque village of Caldbeck in the Lake District," engineers have started work on what will be the third-highest structure in Britain -- a 337-meter [1,106 feet] tower to transmit DTV to Britain's border region. The new mast, it said, is evidence of the gathering momentum behind the government's plan to embrace the digital revolution. Over the next six years, some 5,000 British analog transmitters will be replaced by digital equipment.

Switching off analog will release 14 radio channels in the ultra-high frequency band, and the question, said the Sunday Times, is who will get to use them. "Put at its crudest, the regulator must decide what is better: to allow millions of teenagers to watch "Big Brother" on their mobiles, or to let Grandad watch the 2012 Olympics in glorious high definition?"

The article said more than 70 percent of British homes already watch digital TV on Freeview, BSkyB on DBS, or NTL cable.

But voicing a more serious concern that will sound very familiar to North America and most other countries now converting to digital, the Times said there is growing fear in the U.K. that "many elderly, poor and otherwise disadvantaged viewers could be left behind and denied access to the familiar BBC and ITV channels that are their window on the world." An ongoing BBC awareness campaign, among other things, is designed to alleviate some of that potential problem.