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Digital Television Switchover

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Petition of those concerned about the extent of Freeview services in the Borders as a result of digital television switchover.,

Declares that, in November 2008, the Borders will be the first region in the UK to make the switch from analogue to digital television. Many people in this area receive their television picture from a relay transmitter, but after switchover they will not receive all the available channels on Freeview. Instead, they will receive a much reduced service known as ‘Freeview Lite’. Many channels enjoyed by viewers elsewhere will not be available to viewers who rely on relay transmitters for their television picture. Further declares that this situation is unfair.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to urgently review the impact of the digital television switchover on the Borders area and to take steps to intervene to prevent Borderers from missing out and ensuring that viewers in the Borders who currently receive their television signal from a relay are provided with all the Freeview channels after digital switchover.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr. Michael Moore, Official Report, 15 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 212 .] [P000244]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, received 29 August 2008:

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) coverage is expected to reach 98.5% of households—the same as analogue terrestrial coverage. As part of the digital licensing regime, and to assist with Switchover, Ofcom require the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) multiplex (mux) operators to maintain audience reach by broadcasting from all 1154 transmitters.

The Government and Ofcom are committed to ensuring that digital coverage for the five PSB channels will substantially match current analogue services—98.5% of UK households—at digital switchover.

There are six digital TV multiplexes in the UK. Three are operated by PSBs and three are commercially-owned multiplexes. Even those who receive only the three PSB multiplexes still receive 20 of the most watched channels which is a much wider choice than is currently available with analogue television.

Coverage by the commercial mux operators is a commercial matter for them, although coverage levels post switchover cannot fall below current levels. That is as a minimum, they must broadcast from the 81 main transmitter sites, which gives 90% household coverage. In deciding whether to go beyond this level, they must make a judgement about the necessary investment needed to generate a marginal increase in coverage from each transmitter converted. It is worth noting that even if the multiplex operators were willing to build out the transmission network, there is only sufficient spectrum to enable coverage to be extended to 95% of households.

Digital UK will be making it clear to people who want more channels that they will still have a number of options for going digital, including non-subscription services such as PSB Freesat or Freesat from Sky. Digital Satellite services are available now to 98% of UK households.

The petition declares that in November 2008, the Borders will be the first region in the UK to make the switch from analogue to digital television. I should like to draw the petitioner's attention to Whitehaven/Copeland, Cumbria, which became the first area in the UK to successfully complete the digital TV switchover in November 2007. There has been extensive assessment of the Whitehaven switchover process and my Department—along with Digital UK, Ofcom and the Help Scheme—will ensure that future regions benefit from the lessons learnt during this first switchover phase.