The UK government plans to spend up to £180m helping people who lose TV service when 4G goes live.
Communications minister Ed Vaizey revealed a scheme on Tuesday to help people whose digital television reception is affected by the use of the 800MHz frequency to provide 4G LTE mobile data services.
The scheme will give free filters to mitigate the interference to the homes predicted to be most affected by the switch on of 4G services. Ofcom has estimated [PDF] that up to 2.3 million households could be hit by the interference.
Pot of money
The pot of £180m, provided by mobile operators, will go on supplying information, filters and installation, as well as more extensive work where required.
In most cases, people should be able to install the filters themselves, according to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). For rooftop-level installations, an engineer visit will be necessary, and people will get a voucher for £50 plus VAT to cover this.
Vaizey conceded that "assistance" should be provided for the 38,500 homes where fitting a filter will not help cut interference. These households will be helped to switch to a free-to-view satellite or cable TV service.
A small minority — around 500 homes — will not be able to make this switch. For these premises, up to £10,000 will be available per property to help restore digital terrestial television reception.
The scheme places a few limits on the help provided. For example, only the main television set in a house will get a filter, not second or third devices, and problems with set-top aerials, cable TV devices and local TV services are not covered.
"No support should be offered for any interference caused by mobile handsets using a 4G service where a practical solution is to move the handset away from the TV," Vaizey said.
The letter did not say how eligibility for the financial assistance will be assessed, nor how people can find out whether they are in an affected area or how to apply for help. Asked for more details, a DCMS spokeswoman said: "If you live in an affected area you will be sent a filter, even if you are a cable or satellite subscriber".
The cash for the scheme will come from Mitco, a recently set-up group of mobile operators. The group contains those networks licensed to provide the 4G mobile broadband services in the 800MHz spectrum that will be the cause of the disruption.
According to Vaizey, the terms of the 4G licences issued by Ofcom will include an obligation to comply with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) around the interference mitigation work. If these are not kept to, the networks will be required to take measures such as "delay their network rollout or reduce their power levels in the areas affected until the KPI that had been breached is met", Vaizey said.
There will also be an oversight board that will monitor how well the operators carry out work, to ensure minimum disruption. In addition, Vaizey said Mitco should operate for at least one year, until the networks either meet their coverage obligation or until the 4G network rollout is complete.