I have been in further correspondence with Ofcom and others regarding digital television. As residents will be aware, my original complaint on behalf of residents in the West End, was the lack of Freeview in much of the area until the analogue switch off in just over 2 years' time.
However, a further issue has emerged - the intention to provide a reduced "Freeview Lite" service from the Tay Bridge relay transmitter after 2010 - giving residents only 22 of the 58 TV and radio channels that others served by main transmitters (like the Angus transmitter which serves most of the north of the City) will get.
I have also been in discussion with the Institute of Local Television and Ofcom about the issue of Local TV. Given the popularity - in its time - of the former Channel 6 in Dundee, I want to see provision for a future local TV service included in Ofcom's transmitter spectrum proposals. Anyway here's my latest exchanges with Ofcom. I should add that I am most grateful to Lord Provost John Letford who has written about the "Freeview Lite" issue to the Chair of Ofcom. I have also raised the variable Freeview provision and the Local TV issue with the Scottish Broadcasting Commission.
Fraser's first e-mail to Ofcom:
You will recall that we corresponded earlier in 2007 regarding my concerns that my constituents served by the Tay Bridge relay transmitter will not receive digital terrestrial television until the analogue switch-off in 2010 in the STV North area.
I had assumed that, at least, the issue would be resolved by 2010, but am very concerned to learn recently that the service provided after the switch-over will be so-called “Freeview Lite” containing only 22 of the 58 channels our main transmitter (Angus – which fails to serve most of my ward area) already carries. I understand that OFCOM has sanctioned a reduced number of relays carrying the full Freeview services and that only 90% of the population will receive the full package. This will be particularly sorely felt in much of Scotland with its more dispersed population and proportionally larger number of relay transmitters.
I would wish to see a reconsideration of the position regarding the services to be carried by Tay Bridge. I am unhappy that the level of service provision outside of the main transmitters appears to have been left to the market-place and therefore the likelihood of the balance of the spectrum being allocated for other purposes such as mobile telephony, rather than the provision of the full digital service for all.
I was also like to see OFCOM at least investigating the possibility of the viability of a local feed to the transmitter. For some time, we had the local Channel 6 station transmitting from the Tay Bridge Transmitter. I understand that if the digital service does not include a local feed, there will be no further possibility of local television production via the transmitter. This would be a great shame, especially given the interest locally on resurrecting a local TV service.
I am raising the matter with colleagues in the Dundee City Council administration but would meantime be grateful for your comments. Many thanks.
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Councillor for the West End
Convener of Planning and Transport - Dundee City Council
Ofcom's response :
Thanks for your email. You raise two distinct issues which I will deal with in turn.
Unlike analogue TV, digital terrestrial (Freeview) TV channels are broadcast by combining a number of different TV channels into discrete ‘streams’ of digital data. Each of these streams is known as a ‘multiplex’, and can carry between four and nine individual TV channels. As we have explored previously, only 80 of largest transmitters in the UK currently broadcast digital TV, and each transmitter broadcasts a total of six multiplexes.
Three of the multiplexes (known as the ‘public service’ multiplexes) carry digital equivalents of the four main analogue channels, and will soon include Channel Five, as well as digital TV channels including BBC Three and Four, and ITV 2 and 3. These three multiplexes will be broadcast from all transmitters, including Tay Bridge, after switchover, and this will mean that near-universal coverage of over 20 channels will be available (compared to the current near- universal coverage of just the four main analogue channels).
The other three multiplexes (known as commercial multiplexes) carry commercial services such as Sky News, UKTV Gold, and QVC. Ofcom estimates that approximately 90% of UK households will receive these three commercial multiplexes, as well as the three public service multiplexes, after switchover.
There are a number of reasons why coverage of the three public service multiplexes will be greater than coverage for the three commercial multiplexes. The most significant is that the Communications Act requires only that the coverage of the multiplexes carrying the public service channels substantially match the coverage of their analogue services (this we estimate to be 98.5% of the population). We have therefore required that the public service multiplexes be broadcast from at least all the existing 1,154 analogue transmitter sites where this is necessary to match analogue coverage. The same duty is not placed on the commercial multiplex operators upon which the Communications Act places no specific coverage requirements, and these operators have decided to continue to use the existing 80 larger transmitter sites. Ofcom has however required the multiplex operators concerned to increase the transmission powers at these sites in order to increase coverage to approx 90%.
Moving on to provisions for Local TV, I believe that you have already been in contact with Carmel about a local frequency for Tay Bridge and Dundee. The list of 25 locations we published is an initial proposal - we are very much in listening mode at present and are seeking views from interested parties on potential additional locations. As Carmel explained, assessment of additional sites is quite an involved business, so we are asking for some kind of evidence of demand and support for local services from potential operators in those additional areas. Based on the feedback we receive, we will be consulting in the spring on detailed proposals - at that stage it will still not be too late to provide feedback to the process.
I would be happy to discuss any of the above in more detail if you would like to call me on the number below
:: Peter Madry, Senior Associate Technical Advisor, Broadcast Technical Policy, Ofcom
And ... Fraser's further response:
Many thanks for your response, which is appreciated.
With regard to the roll-out of Freeview, whilst noting what you write, it remains in my view highly disappointing that the full Freeview services will not be broadcast from all transmitters. Whilst I note what you write about increasing the power of the main sites, although this theoretically could mean that some of my constituents in the West End of Dundee, presently served by the Tay Bridge transmitter, might be able (after the analogue switch off) to receive the full Freeview facilities from the Angus transmitter, this will, I assume, in no way be guaranteed and some/many will be disappointed (I assume especially those where topography will make picking up a signal from the Angus transmitter problematic). Furthermore, it would involve a change of aerial direction (and aerial?) and in a ward with a very high concentration of tenemental properties and communal aerials, I have doubts as to how many will easily gain from any increase in the transmission coverage from Angus in 2010 onwards.
There is significant local support for local TV here in the Dundee area, particularly given the popularity of the former Channel 6 service from the Tay Bridge transmitter. The City Council Administration group has given its unanimous support for a letter of submission to Ofcom to demonstrate the interest, and this is presently being prepared by the City Council’s Economic Development Department. I have also raised the matter with Angus Council and Fife Council, whose adjacent populations are served by the Angus transmitter and Tay Bridge transmitter too.