Following up on the last entry about digital terrestrial television in the West End (or lack of it for many residents), there's no doubt about the strength of feeling people have about the unfairness of the way in which it has been rolled out, if my postbag has been anything to go by recently!
I paste below the latest exchange with OFCOM, following my earlier exchange with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (click on headline above to read the last exchange on this from last month). The bottom line I feel on this is if OFCOM's predecessor (the ITC) decided to upgrade only 30 of the larger relay transmitters to digital in advance of the analogue "switch off" (for us, three years away), why was the Tay Bridge transmitter not one of the relays chosen, as it serves over 35 000 people?
Anyway, here's the latest. Firstly OFCOM replying to my earlier e-mail to them:
I apologise for the delay in replying to you.
It is certainly true that there are a number of relay transmitters serving relatively large numbers of households that do not yet broadcast digital services. The ITC (one of Ofcom's predecessor bodies) decided which transmitters would be used to broadcast digital television in the mid 1990s. The problem they faced was that there was no new portion of spectrum available for digital television, so digital services would have to be squeezed in any gaps between the frequencies used by analogue TV services. This meant that digital services couldn't be installed everywhere and even where they were, powers would have to be limited to avoid causing interference to analogue viewers.
The broad aims for the ITC were to maximise coverage whilst also providing equitable coverage in each programming region and nation. This was set against quite considerable engineering challenges and expense in adding transmitters and antennas to the existing transmitter sites while continuing to broadcast analogue TV. There were also a number of consequential works for the broadcasters as some analogue services had to change frequency, which often meant buying new equipment.
The ITC came up with a list of 80 transmitters for which licenses were advertised, including all 50 analogue transmitters that were classed as 'main' transmitters together with 30 of the larger relays. Although the list details just 80 transmitters (so that the applicants for the licence to broadcast digital services could gauge their financial commitments) it was always expected that once these transmitters were established that further transmitters would get digital services where frequencies could be found. Each additional transmitter would have knock-on effects elsewhere in the UK that would need dealing with. However, things went wrong when ITV digital got into financial difficulties in 2001. Their licences were eventiually re-awarded in 2002 which lead to the setting up of Freeview.
What has happened now is that digital switchover has caught up. The problem with adding digital services to transmitters like Tay Bridge now is that with analogue television still operating, its powers would have to be limited and temporary frequencies used, if indeed frequencies could be found. When switchover then occurs in Scotland in 2010, Tay Bridge's temporary digital services would need to be re-engineered, as will happen for the digital services at all 80 existing sites. It is worth noting that the broadcasters are already investing in upgrading broadcasting antennas and masts in the first few regions: Border and Westcountry.
Works will commence in both STV regions next year as there is a lot of preparatory work required to be done before switchover actually happens. However, until the analogue television services are switched off, the availability of digital services will remain limited.
I hope that's useful, please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss any points in more detail.
Senior Associate Technical Advisor - Broadcast Technical Policy - Ofcom - www.ofcom.org.uk
And my e-mail back :
Thanks for your e-mail.
Can you advise the rationale the ITC used when drawing up its list of "30 of the larger relays" and why Tay Bridge, serving over 35 000 people was omitted?
Also you indicate "once these transmitters were established that further transmitters would get digital services where frequencies could be found. Each additional transmitter would have knock-on effects elsewhere in the UK that would need dealing with. However, things went wrong when ITV digital got into financial difficulties in 2001."
Can you advise why the demise of ITV digital resulted in the decision not to further extend digital services to relay transmitters prior to the analogue switch-off?
You will appreciate that the main point of my queries surround why so few relay transmitters were chosen, leaving large centres of population, like that of the Tay Bridge transmitter area unserved by digital until 2010.
Cllr Fraser Macpherson - Councillor for the West End
Convener of Planning and Transport - Dundee City Council
I'll keep residents updated on this issue as always.