A campaign is underway to preserve Freeview and terrestrial radio for future decades, ahead of major international conference this November.
Delegates at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) will make binding decisions on whether frequencies currently used for terrestrial TV in the UK and Europe must be surrendered for use by mobile network operators. In the UK, this affects Freeview, in the Republic of Ireland, Saorview.
So far, over 22,600 have signed a petition for the Government to guarantee access to Freeview and terrestrial radio (e.g. FM and DAB) beyond 2040, a timeframe supported by Arqiva, the company who manages most of the UK’s television and radio transmitter infrastructure. These services are delivered via a network of transmitter masts, such as the one pictured above, at Wenvoe in South Wales.
Earlier this year, the Government said it agreed “that terrestrial TV and radio are hugely important and will continue to be for years to come”. It says it’s committed to ensuring UK audiences can access these platforms in “the long term.”
- Should the Freeview petition reach 100,000 signatures by July, the subject matter will be considered for debate in Parliament.
- At present, frequencies used by terrestrial television are only safe until 2030. Radio services are not affected, as they operate on frequencies that are not up for discussion at WRC-23. But some radio broadcasters are eager to transition to an online-only environment.
- Ofcom, who will be representing the UK at WRC-23 has thrown its weight behind maintaining the status quo for now.
- This is known as the ‘no change’ option at WRC-23. But ultimately, the final decision made at WRC-23 will override any other national preference.
Broadcasting industry not universally behind this
Some in the broadcasting industry, including BBC bosses, are calling for a transition to online-only broadcasting. It’s expected that any reprieve of the TV frequencies will only be temporary and subject to discussion again in 2027, at WRC-27. This would only extend the availability of frequencies for TV until 2034-35. Incidentally, this aligns with the end date of the broadcast licences issued to UK Freeview multiplex operators.
Beyond 2035, any terrestrial TV service may look very different to the service enjoyed now. With fewer live channels available, terrestrial TV may consist of a 5G-delivered universal basic TV service. 5G Broadcast is already testing in some European countries. However, adopting 5G Broadcast would allow broadcasters to say they’ve transitioned to online-only broadcasting while at the same time maintaining a terrestrially delivered signal.
Arqiva’s Broadcast 2040+ campaign has highlighted some concerns if terrestrial TV was switched-off. For example, research conducted last year highlighted concerns over cost. More than half of those polled also said they weren’t interested in switching from Freeview to streaming apps.
Meanwhile, beyond the UK, numerous European public service broadcasters are actively supporting a campaign to retain spectrum for terrestrial TV and for Programme Making & Special Events equipment.
[Image: Wenvoe transmitter/Google]