The BBC’s lawsuit against transmitter operator Arqiva seeks damages for loss of service in the North East of England.
TV and radio services were severely disrupted in August 2021 after a fire broke out at the Bilsdale transmitter mast in North Yorkshire. Thousands of homes were left without Freeview TV reception, some for months. Nearly two years later, coverage has begun to be restored. Last week, the first TV services were transferred to the new 300m replacement mast.
News of the lawsuit was first published in The Telegraph in early May, but the report was unable to confirm the amount being pursued against Arqiva. In a message to investors, Arqiva says it will be defending itself against the claim. The loss of BBC services in the region resulted in some households receiving a refund on their TV licence.
The amount being pursed by the BBC would keep BBC Four on air for a year, or would be the equivalent of 38% of the BBC News Channel’s 2021-2022 budget.
Arqiva has spent in excess of £40 million following the incident, including the cost of providing viewer support and the construction of a new replacement mast. It expects insurance money to only partially cover the costs it has incurred.
The official cause of the fire has been attributed to water ingress to an electrical component connected to third-party equipment at the site.
Ofcom’s incident report into the Bilsdale fire confirmed Arqiva has performance clauses in its contracts “which incentivise Arqiva to meet the target availability requirements.” Arqiva is required to hold and deploy disaster recovery infrastructure in case a transmitter site suffers a catastrophic fault, an example being a failure of the structure.