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Dundee Liberal Democrats criticise "Freeview Postcode Lottery" as Minister closes door on digital TV for thousands of Dundonians until 2010

February 15, 2006 11:24 AM
Digital Terrestrial TV issue highlighted by Dundee Liberal Democrats

Digital TV issue highlighted by Dundee Liberal Democrats

A Dundee LibDem councillor has reacted angrily to a government response to his concerns about lack of Freeview digital TV availability in large parts of Dundee.

Following Liberal Democrat Dundee City Councillor for Tay Bridges Ward Cllr Fraser Macpherson raising concern with the Department of Culture, Media & Sport that many Dundee and North Fife citizens are being denied access to Freeview digital TV services (see story Thursday 29th December 2005), the Minister for Creative Industries and Tourism has confirmed to Cllr Macpherson that services will not be extended to include them until the Grampian TV "analogue switch-off" date of 2010.

Many of Cllr Macpherson's constituents in the West End and City Centre of Dundee have long expressed concern about the continuing lack of digital TV coverage served by the Tay Bridge transmitter at the south end of the Tay Bridge. In December 2005, Cllr Macpherson received confirmation from Industry Regulator, Ofcom, that the problem was unlikely to be resolved until 2010 and he therefore wrote on behalf of constituents to the Minister for Culture, Media & Sport highlighting the issue.

Cllr Macpherson commented that some 35 000 people are served by the transmitter which continues to carry only analogue signals. "The continuing failure to convert the transmitter to also carry digital signals means that virtually all residents in my Ward in the West End and City Centre cannot receive digital terrestrial television, along with thousands of other Dundee citizens in Craigiebank, much of Broughty Ferry, other parts of the City and in North Fife," commented Cllr Macpherson.

Many residents in the Charleston area of the City also cannot receive digital terrestrial signals as the Camperdown relay transmitter, like Tay Bridge, carries analogue signals only.

James Purnell MP, Minister of Creative Industries and Tourism has now replied to Cllr Macpherson saying that he does appreciate the frustration of residents of Dundee and North Fife who cannot receive digital terrestrial television, but that the reason for this "is simply the lack of available frequencies." He continues - "Nationally, frequency allocation is very restricted due to the number of existing analogue signals that are in use. It would only be upon the release of these frequencies, after the cessation of analogue broadcasting, that coverage for digital terrestrial television can be increased to reach 98.5%, the same level as current analogue television coverage." The Minister further states that the digital switchover plan was "not decided by Government but by broadcasters, multiplex operators and Ofcom, and was based on technical criteria."

Reacting to the news, Cllr Macpherson said that, whilst the accepted that the final digital switchover plan had been based on the technical data available at the time, the whole "analogue to digital" process had not been thought through by government early enough, which had resulted in this "postcode lottery" for the next four to six years across the UK.

"Its pot luck depending on your postcode whether or not you will get Freeview this side of 2010 or 2012, and the date it eventually arrives depends where you live in the UK," commented Cllr Macpherson. "The simple reality is that the government didn't think the process through early enough. The main transmitters, like those at Tealing (Angus transmitter for Grampian TV) and Burntisland (Craigkelly transmitter for Scottish TV) were converted for digital early on, without thought as to how those served by the smaller relay transmitters were to be converted. It was only well down the road of the process that the penny dropped that more than 25% of the population had no chance of getting digital terrestrial TV until the analogue signal was switched off."

Cllr Macpherson said many residents feel that it is completely unfair that many TV licence payers are simply not getting the digital services others receive. Tay Bridge is one of about 20 transmitters in the UK that serve populations of more than 30 000 people but still do not broadcast digital pictures. Ofcom has estimated that there are about 20 transmitters that serve populations above 30 000 that do not yet broadcast digital signals. Tay Bridge is number 12 on the list in terms of population, the first being Ebbw Vale.

Councillor Macpherson said there was great concern that the "digital switchover" plan had essentially created two classes of viewer - those served by principal transmitters which carry digital and those served by many of the relay transmitters, like Tay Bridge, which do not. "The extended period leading up to digital switchover means that viewers can wait up to five years more until they will be able to receive the digital service others already enjoy. It's a postcode lottery and the government has to carry the can for not thinking the digital issue through properly in the early stages," said Cllr Macpherson.

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