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U.K.: Regulator Ignores ‘Expert Advice’ on HD Spectrum

Ofcom, the television regulator for the United Kingdom, had decided to support a major reassignment of the existing multiplex system for terrestrial DTV for the purpose of clearing space for HDTV transmissions. In doing so, Ofcom, in effect, ignored the advice of an experts group on how to deal with the issue.

In its official statement April 3 Ofcom said any new transmission model would be based on MPEG-4 compression and DVB-T2 transmission.

“Terrestrial television is broadcast on six multiplexes. These are distinct blocks of transmission capacity which carry television channels. Ofcom proposes to clear one of the three multiplexes currently used for public service broadcasting (Multiplex B, now licensed to BBC Free to View). The existing channels on this multiplex will be relocated to use the spare capacity on the other multiplexes. Once this is complete, Multiplex B will be upgraded to use new technologies and standards,” said the statement.

As a result, viewers in some parts of the United Kingdom could start receiving the first HD signals sometime in late 2009. Current network broadcasters (apart from the BBC) would have to bid for transmission spectrum on the new multiplex (to be overseen by the BBC Trust).

Ofcom’s decision flies in the face of an all-industry Experts Group which a month ago had advised the regulator to, instead, adopt a nationwide “single frequency network” approach for transmission which would have created space for 20 HDTV channels, instead of the three or four HD venues for the nation’s Freeview (free terrestrial) service, which critics think may not be enough to allow Freeview to adequately compete for DTV viewers in the years ahead.