Freeview TV changes #dundeewestend

From yesterday onwards, many people in the West End may need to retune their TV if you are missing channels.
 
This affects you if your transmitter is Tay Bridge, which serves much of the West End – it also affects the Angus transmitter that serves other parts of our area.
 
Guidance about how to retune your TV is available here.

Campaign to end second class TV services for thousands of Dundonians

The Courier, Evening Telegraph and Wave 102 recently highlighted my criticism of what I consider the ‘laissez faire and poor response’ I received from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) following my raising with the department the continuing short-changing of thousands of Dundee TV viewers who have a second rate level of TV services since the digital TV switch over in Tayside in 2010.
 
I have long been critical of government handling of the conversion to digital which has meant that all people whose TV reception comes from a relay transmitter rather than a main regional transmitter cannot receive all Freeview TV channels and programmes but get a “Freeview Lite” service with a severely limited selection of channels. 
 
In the case of the Tay Bridge transmitter, its 35 000 viewers do not get access to all Freeview stations, including most residents of the West End and City Centre, together with many in other parts of southern Dundee, including much of Craigiebank and Broughty Ferry.   Additionally, many in the Charleston and Menzieshill areas of Dundee do not get all Freeview services because they are served by a relay transmitter at Menzieshill.   It also affects viewers in parts of north Fife.
 
Information on the anomaly can be evidenced at the Digital UK website at www.tinyurl.com/dundee-freeview – showing that people who get their TV signal from the main Angus transmitter get 108 channels available + 15 HD channels;   those served by the relay Tay Bridge transmitter get only 20 channels available + 6 HD channels.
 
It should be remembered that of those liable to meet a TV licence, everyone pays the same fee but TV viewers face two classes of service depending where they live and what transmitter serves their area and I view that as completely unfair.
 
The sell-off of the no longer used analogue bandwidth after the digital switch-over had the potential to raise billions for government and many feel the limited Freeview services for all served by relay transmitters has simply maximised the government’s financial windfall from the sale of the bandwidth.
 
I have to say I am deeply unimpressed by the department’s ‘do nothing’ response which completely fails to address the issue.    
 
As many constituents have contacted me about the DCMS response, I thought it would be useful if I reproduce the response from the department in full :
“Thank you for your email of 26 May, and further email of 22 June, to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), about Freeview channels. I am replying as a member of the DCMS Ministerial Support Team.
It is unfortunately the case that some Freeview viewers receive fewer channels than viewers in other areas. This is because Freeview (terrestrial TV) services in the UK are broadcast from a network of 80 primary transmitter masts. These masts are generally tall structures which operate at high power levels so as to provide coverage to as many viewers as possible and 90 per cent of UK viewers are in areas covered by signals from a primary mast. However, these signals are not available in all areas, often due to factors such as distance from the transmitter or to the nature of the local terrain.In order to extend terrestrial TV coverage to such areas, between the 1970s and the 1990s, broadcasters progressively built an extensive network of smaller analogue relay transmitters which provided fill-in signal coverage where possible which increased the total availability of terrestrial signals to around 98.5 per cent of the UK population. There are now around 1,100 of these relay transmitters in the UK.Relay transmitters do not broadcast as many channels as the primary transmitters. This is because digital television, unlike analogue television, is transmitted in groups of channels known as multiplexes of which there are currently six. Three of these multiplexes are known as the ‘public service broadcaster’ multiplexes and carry the digital equivalents of the old analogue channels (BBC 1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5), and around 11 other standard definition channels. The public service broadcaster multiplexes also include four high definition channels which can be received by viewers with Freeview HD compatible equipment.

At the time of digital switchover, in keeping with the Government’s requirement that the former analogue channels should be as widely available in digital form as they were in analogue, Ofcom required broadcasters to upgrade all their relays as well as the primary transmitters to carry the public service multiplexes. This ensures that these core services continue to be available to at least 98.5 per cent of the UK population.

The other three multiplexes are known as the commercial multiplexes, and are operated by the transmission company Arqiva and SDN Ltd (a subsidiary of ITV plc). The commercial multiplexes have been broadcast from the UK’s 80 primary transmitters for some years. However, because the commercial multiplexes do not carry any of the old analogue channels, the decision about whether to upgrade relays as well as the primary transmitters was a commercial one for the multiplex operators. Ofcom cannot require the operators to upgrade further transmitters to carry the commercial multiplexes and while the commercial operators were given the opportunity to add further transmitters to their networks at the time of switchover, they have chosen not to do so.

It is also worth mentioning that there are insufficient ‘spare’ transmission frequencies available to allow all relays to be upgraded to carry the commercial multiplexes, although the main constraint is that of poor commercial viability.

In practice this means that viewers who use a relay transmitter are able to receive up to 20 Freeview TV channels, including all of the channels they were able to receive before switchover and all of the BBC’s licence-fee funded terrestrial TV services, as well as a selection of HD channels which can be received on Freeview HD equipment. Those viewing from primary transmitters are able to receive more than 40 TV channels.

As the coverage and range of available Freeview channels varies by area, viewers were advised to contact Digital UK before digital switchover took place for information on channel availability at specific locations from the time of switchover. Digital UK can also provide information on alternative reception platforms for viewers who wish to receive a wider range of channels. Alternative reception options include the non-subscription satellite services operated by Freesat (www.freesat.co.uk) and freesat from Sky (www.sky.com/shop/freesat). Digital UK can be contacted on 08456 50 50 50, or via http://www.digitaluk.co.uk.”

In my view, the government should be using its influence to compel the TV operators to make their output available on an equal basis for all TV viewers and its inaction on the issue is deeply regrettable.   I will continue to campaign for better coverage of all Freeview channels.

Freeview interference in the West End

A number of West End residents who live close to the Tay Rail Bridge (to its west) have contacted me as they are having television reception problems caused, they think, by the canvass canopies on the bridge as part of the current works, that they understand may be interfering with the TV signal.   These constituents receive their TV signals from the Tay Bridge relay transmitter in NE Fife.
 
I contacted the Community Relations Manager, Scotland, at Network Rail who advises :
 
“The map below shows the position of the TV Transmitter in Tayport (Tay Road Bridge); the top of the mast is 142M above sea level. The highest point of the rail bridge is 32.3M above sea level.
 
As you can see on the map below unless there are houses in the middle of the estuary it is impossible for the encapsulation to be affecting the TV signal, even ignoring the fact that the TV signals will pass through  PVC. 
 
The steel structure itself is far more likely to affect a TV signal and as that has been there since 1887 I doubt that would be the cause either.”
Further investigation indicates that the interference may actually be caused by new 4G mobile phone services.   
 
4G signals at 800Mhz can interfere with Freeview signals and the mobile phone industry has a helpline (0808 13 13 800) which can provide a filter for your TV (and engineering support) to resolve the problem.      More information can be accessed here.

Call to tackle the continuing digital TV postcode lottery

I have again described Dundee’s digital TV output as a continuing postcode lottery and have written to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, Maria Miller MP, calling for the government to review the multiplex arrangements on Freeview that mean that thousands of his West End constituents continue to receive far fewer TV channels from digital terrestrial TV than other Dundonians served by a different TV transmitter.
 
This is a long-standing anomaly caused by the previous government’s decision to make several of the Freeview multiplex channels available to only the so-called “main” transmitters and it means many people get a second-class service, despite paying the same TV licence fee as everyone else.     Never a month goes by when I don’t get an enquiry or complaint from a West End constituent.   It is an on-going complaint for many of my constituents as the majority of them – particularly in the southern part of the West End ward – can only get TV signals from the Tay Bridge relay transmitter that carries a reduced number of TV and radio channels.
 
It is really about time the government looked again at the issue.   It affects about a quarter of Freeview viewers across the UK, particularly in rural areas.   Here in Dundee, those who are served by the main Angus main transmitter get all Freeview TV and radio channels, but in the case of Tay Bridge transmitter, its 35,000 viewers do not get access to all channels on Freeview, including most residents of the West End and City Centre and much of Craigiebank and Broughty Ferry, as well as parts of north Fife.  
 
Additionally, many in the Charleston and Menzieshill areas using Freeview are similarly disadvantaged because they are served by the Dundee Menzieshill relay transmitter, again, without the full digital TV output.
 
The difference in TV and radio total channels is stark – 18 from Tay Bridge and Dundee Menzieshill transmitters;   78 from Angus transmitter.   
 
People quite rightly are continuing to complain about this.   They pay the same TV licence fee but they get a second-class service and it’s a postcode lottery depending on where you live in Dundee.   That is completely unfair.
 
I hope that Maria Miller will give consideration to requiring broadcasters whose output is delivered via Freeview to ensure their channels are available from all transmitters.   

Digital switchover confusion

 

Oh no it doesn’t – it happened last August!

I recently spoke with a resident who lives just south of Perth Road in the Sinderins area.    She was surprised to have received a mailing in the past few days from Digital UK about TV digital switchover when, like all other residents in the area, she had done this last August.

The mailing was aimed at occupiers of flats and it talks about switchover happening from May of this year.   I queried this with Digital UK and am advised by their Assistant National Manager :

“The simple answer is that constituent will have received the mailing as she has a chance of receiving a signal from Craigkelly. Where someone is in an area where there is a chance of receiving signals from different transmitter groups, we include them in mailings for all the relevant transmitters they could be getting their signals from.

We try and target the information we issue as specifically as we can. But, as you can imagine there are some areas where crossovers exist and we have to cover all bases. As you know we do not know which properties have and have not made the switch, so we need to include all possible properties in case they are included in that particular transmitter group.

We appreciate that this will cause confusion for some who made the switch in August. To deal with this, we have a three-point ‘What to do’ list in the leaflet and the first point is to speak to your landlord or property manager to see if anything needs to be done. Any good landlord/property manager should know the answer to this straight away.”

The Craigkelly transmitter covers part of the STV Central area (Edinburgh/Lothians/South Fife) and although quite a few residents in southern parts of the West End may get TV signals from it, it is very much a “secondary” transmitter for the area as its target audience is largely south of Glenrothes/Central Fife.   This resident’s primary transmitter is Tay Bridge in the STV North area and it was part of the STV North digital switchover that happened last August.

Although this resident is not elderly, as she points out many of her neighbours are elderly and she’s concerned that this mailing may cause them some confusion.    I’ve pointed out to Digital UK that I doubt there’s more than a small handful of people in Dundee who have not already made the digital switch – the vast majority of residents will have transferred to digital TV either before or at the STV North switchover last summer.

The message is simple – if you get a mailing about digital switchover and you have already switched to digital TV, ignore the mailing – but if you need any advice, contact Digital UK on 08456 50 50 50.

Final stage of digital switchover tomorrow

Further to my update earlier this month, the final stage of the digital switchover in Dundee and across Tayside and north Fife takes place tomorrow – when the final analogue channels get switched-off permanently.

Freeview viewers should rescan channels again tomorrow. Full details are available on the Digital UK website. This does not affect cable and Sky viewers.

As I have previously indicated, I am particularly anxious that elderly residents are given the fullest assistance, and if I can be of any help to any West End resident, do please call me on Dundee 459378 or e-mail tvswitch@frasermacpherson.org.uk.

Latest on the Digital TV Switchover

Here’s part of the latest update from Digital UK about the awareness campaign for the ‘digital switchover’ taking place in our area (the STV North region) next summer.   It is reproduced below the Digital UK logo (below).
 
Along with a number of my councillor colleagues in Dundee, I attended a briefing from Digital UK last week at the City Chambers to update councillors on the latest developments.

I’m pleased to say that Digital UK and representatives from the help scheme (financed by the BBC and aimed at helping elderly people and people with disabilities get assistance to be able to continue getting their TV programmes after the swtchover) will attend the Community Fayre taking place on Saturday 21st November – at the launch of West End Christmas Week.

DIGITAL UK TO VISIT EVERY STV NORTH COUNCIL WARD

The Digital UK team is embarking on a series of activities for council wards within the STV North area. Holding at least one event in every ward, Digital UK will stage a mix of drop-ins and public meetings to engage directly with the communities. The team will work with councillors to address the needs of each community and to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do in the run up to switchover next year. Events will be held in Shetland Isles, Orkney, Western Isles, Highland, Moray, Aberdeen and Shire, Dundee, Angus, North Fife, Argyll and Bute (northern part) as well as Perth and Kinross.

STV NORTH GETS SWITCHED ON TO SWITCHOVER HELP SCHEME

Eligibility for the Help Scheme is now open in STV North. A television and print advertising campaign to raise awareness of help available to older and disabled people in the area has been launched. Eligible people living in the region will receive an information pack that will explain how they can get extra help to convert one TV in their home in time for switchover and will invite people to apply for the help available. It sets out the standard offer which is available for £40, or free, as well as offering a range of other ways to go digital. As part of the programme of activity, stakeholders will be contacted, and TV and radio advertising will become more prominent.

FREEVIEW UPGRADE EXTENDS FIVE AND PREPARES FOR HD

Freeview has completed an upgrade to its service to ensure Five is as widely available as the other main terrestrial channels after switchover. Key changes were also made to the network to prepare for the launch of HD services. Freeview viewers were required to retune their equipment from lunchtime on 30 September to continue receiving all channels in their area.

Following the changes, 500,000 existing Freeview homes are now able to receive Five for first time. ITV3 and ITV4, however, will no longer be broadcast from relay transmitters. Viewers in need of advice on retuning can visit tvretune.co.uk or call an automated helpline on 08456 051122.

DIGITAL TAKE-UP RISES AS VIEWERS CONVERT SECOND SETS

Viewers across Scotland are getting the urge to go digital in their kitchens and bedrooms. Latest research from Ofcom (to June 2009) reveals 70 per cent of all secondary TV sets across the UK have now been converted, up 15 percentage points on this time last year. In total, 80 per cent of the UK’s 60 million sets are now connected to a multichannel TV service.

STV North TV region gets Switched On to Switchover Help Scheme

Here’s an update from John MacNeil, Assistant National Manager – STV North, Digital UK received yesterday regarding the digital TV switchover and the Help Scheme :

“More than 190,000 older and disabled people in the STV North region will be entitled to practical help to switch over to digital. The Switchover Help Scheme is run by the BBC through an agreement with the Government to help eligible older and disabled people to make the switch to digital on one of their TV sets.

The Help Scheme has launched a television and print advertising campaign to raise awareness of the help available to older and disabled people so they can continue to watch their favourite television programmes after switchover. The Help Scheme will also be running local activity and poster advertising campaigns and Help Scheme events in the lead up to switchover. The Help Scheme is also working alongside Digital UK and with local charities and organisations to spread the word. More information can be found with the recent press release (see http://tinyurl.com/digitalhelp).

Eligible people in the STV North TV region will be offered a Freeview set top box for £40, or free if they also get income benefits. The help also includes installation if requested, a demonstration of how to use the equipment, an aerial check and upgrade if necessary for those that own their own aerials and a free help line to ring for advice while they get used to it.

There are many ways to go digital and additional Help Scheme options are available at extra cost – these are set out in the options guide sent to eligible people. The Help Scheme will write to all those who are eligible, starting with the islands as a distinct mailing burst to allow installers to complete installations within a fixed window of time.

The Switchover Help Scheme has appointed Luke McCullough as its National Manager, Scotland.”


The digital Help Scheme’s website is at http://www.helpscheme.co.uk/

That Freeview retune …

Last week, TV viewers throughout Scotland were asked to retune their Freeview TVs and boxes to continue receiving all of the channels available in their area.

The retune was required due to an “upgrade” to the service that was supposed to ensure that “Five” became more widely available  and to prepare the way for the launch of HD services.

I have had a number of constituents (and a gentleman from Gowrie Park, across the ward boundary into Lochee Ward) contact me to say that the net effect of the retune was the loss of Channel Five!      However, if you retune again, Five should reappear.


A new website to help viewers with retuning has been launched at http://www.tvretune.co.uk/. The site includes over 300 instruction manuals, a BBC video on retuning and answers to frequently asked questions – and is really useful.

BBC digital switchover help scheme

Later today, I met with two senior representatives of the BBC digital switchover help scheme to discuss ways in which elderly and disabled people in the West End can be assisted with the digital TV switchover, taking place in Dundee and Tayside next summer.
I met with Alan Moore, the Switchover Help Scheme Manager for Scotland and Colin Scott, the Scheme’s regional project co-ordinator for Tayside, to be briefed on the details of the help scheme for elderly and disabled people to ensure that no residents are left with blank TV screens after analogue TV signals are ended across Tayside in mid 2010.
The help scheme allows those aged over 75 and those on certain disability benefits a low-cost way of converting to digital TV including the equipment and full installation – to remove any worries about losing TV reception. For many on low incomes, the service is entirely free of charge and today’s meeting was useful to get the full details of the scheme from its senior managers. I am anxious that all elderly and disabled constituents get full advantage of the scheme which has been set up and is being run by the BBC.
I am advised that all people who qualify for this useful help scheme to convert to digital television will be automatically sent information about it, probably starting next January – in plenty time before the old analogue TV signals are switched off in the summer of next year. However, there will be other publicity to ensure people are made aware of the scheme and I have specifically invited BBC digital switchover help scheme representatives to come to the community fayre being run as part of the West End Christmas Week later this year as it will be an ideal opportunity to discuss the benefits of the scheme with local people in Dundee’s West End.
The digital Switchover Help Scheme is being run by the BBC, under an agreement with government. More information is available at http://www.helpscheme.co.uk/ or by phoning 0800 40 85 900.

TV issues – surgeries well attended yesterday

The meetings with Digital UK that I chaired at some of the sheltered housing complexes in the West End yesterday, to allow constituents to raise complaints and concerns about TV reception – and on the issue of the digital switchover – proved extremely successful with over 120 residents attending. Actually 123 residents and a lovely, well-behaved dog! See pictures below.

I am indebted to Alan Cowie, the former Grampian TV presenter – who spoke at the meetings. Alan is assisting Digital UK’s effort to liaise with people to ensure that their TV and digital questions are addressed and answered. He is excellent at covering the issues and engaging with the audience. Many elderly people in particular had questions about how they ensure they continue to receive television reception after the switchover and it was appropriate to hold these meetings at sheltered housing lounges in the area.

Digital UK are the experts regarding the digital switch-over and what I found particularly useful for the explanation of the Digital Help Scheme which aims to help those aged 75 and over and persons with disabilities get digital equipment and installation at little or no cost, a scheme being led by the BBC. It seems like a very good scheme for elderly and disabled people and it is important that residents are given full information about it in advance of the switch-off of the old analogue television signals in summer 2010.

As a result of the meetings today, I have taken up some individuals’ TV reception complaints and am – as always – pleased to assist any other West End residents with them.

Above : Alan speaking to Pennycook Court residentsAbove : Morven Terrace Sheltered Housing meetingAbove : The meeting at Blackness CourtAbove : The doggie audience!

Meetings about television issues

Following a deluge of complaints about TV reception from constituents and many questions about the digital TV switchover, taking place in the summer of next year – as reported in tonight’s “Evening Telegraph” – I have organised six meetings on Wednesday of this week at some of the sheltered housing complexes in the West End.

The meetings will allow local residents to raise complaints and concerns about TV reception and on the issue of the digital switchover with John MacNeil, Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland. Many elderly people in particular have questions about how they ensure to continue to receive television reception after the switchover and it seems highly appropriate to hold these meetings at sheltered housing lounges.

I am grateful to Digital UK for taking part in the local meetings this week. Their expertise will help residents with any TV reception and digital switchover issues they wish to raise. Digital UK are the experts regarding the digital switch-over and will be there to provide advice to any resident with questions about the impending changes and help that is available.

There have been many TV reception issues raised with me recently and I felt it would be helpful to allow residents in the West End to speak with the experts directly.

The meetings take place this Wednesday (24th June) at the following locations:

10.15am Morven Terrace Sheltered Lounge
11.00am Pennycook Court Sheltered Lounge
11.45am Blackness Court Sheltered Lounge
12.30pm Paton’s Lane Sheltered Lounge
1.15pm Tullideph Sheltered Lounge
2.00pm Corso Street Sheltered Lounge

Digital TV meeting

I had a very useful meeting with John MacNeil, Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland to discuss the recent TV reception problems locally and the forthcoming ‘digital switchover’ – if you go to http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2009/04/30/story13054168t0.shtm you can read the report on this in tonight’s “Evening Telegraph.”
John & I are holding “Digital TV Surgeries” during June at various sheltered housing lounges in the West End, to explain to residents the digital switchover issues and the help scheme for elderly and disabled people.

Freeview update … what your TV licence should but might not get you …

Last night’s “Evening Telegraph” (see http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2009/04/27/story13034197t0.shtm) gave readers an update on the recent TV reception issues (and my meeting this week with Digital UK).

It also highlighted a long-standing concern of mine that – even when all transmitters finally transmit digital signals (the relay transmitters currently don’t) – the intention is to provide a reduced “Freeview Lite” service from transmitters like 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.
If you go to http://www.dundeewestend.com/2008/01/digital-tv-update.html, my earlier update on this matter from just over a year ago gives some more of the background on this. The bottom line on this, I think is that TV licence payers are all entitled to the same number and quality of service and that principle has been breached – I view this as unacceptable.

More on television reception problems …

I am pleased at the latest response from Digital UK regarding the numerous television reception problems I have raised on behalf of local people – affecting many viewers who get their TV signals from the Angus transmitter at Tealing, particularly those watching Freeview.   The issue is covered in tonight’s ‘Evening Telegraph’ – go to http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2009/04/17/story12971574t0.shtm to view the article.

 

I have been in discussions this week with Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland following a mass of complaints about the quality of TV reception and, as a result, the Digital UK representative has agreed to investigate the issues affecting any individual who is experiencing reception problems.

Digital UK’s Assistant National Manager for Scotland has now said that where a resident gives me permission to pass on their contact details to him with detail of their reception problems, he is willing to look into their specific reception problems, which is I think is a helpful response.

He is also gathering details for me of impending work on the Angus transmitter in the run-up to the digital switch-over next year which will reduce the strength of the signal temporarily. It is important that there is good public information about this and I am pleased that Digital UK accepts this.
 
What is clear is that the digital signal is not at full strength at the moment as this would apparently interfere with the traditional analogue signals. I am assured that, after the old analogue service is switched off at the digital switchover, the digital signal strength will be increased permanently. That said, this does not happen until next year, so I am pleased that Digital UK is showing a willingness to look into residents’ complaints now.
If you wish a specific problem passed on to Digital UK, you can do so by calling me on 459378 or e-mailing tvproblems@frasermacpherson.org.uk.

TV problems – update

An update on Monday’s blog entry on the TV reception problems : Last night’s “Evening Telegraph” (see http://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/output/2009/04/08/story12922227t0.shtm) carried an article about the matter, and Digital UK’s response.
There was a further update in today’s “Courier” – I have been in correspondence with Paul Hughes, National Manager for Scotland for Digital UK. Digital UK had no obvious solution at hand for the poor TV reception but Paul has offered to raise the matter with his broadcast team, although he felt that it may be a matter best resolved via Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator. I have already been in touch with Ofcom and have had an initial response from their Spectrum Customer Support Team as follows :

“I have passed this on to our interference team, who will be able to do a possible investigation for you and any information that they may know about this transmitter.”

Paul Hughes at Digital UK has also offered to check out specific postcodes for any localised problems.

I have made the point that the extent of the problems is such that there clearly is an issue with the Angus transmitter – I have had calls from people living as far away as Perth and the one thing virtually all people who have complained about the issue have in common is that they receive their TV pictures from the Angus transmitter, the main TV transmitter for the area, sited near Tealing. I am continuing to pursue the issue on behalf of residents.

I should also add that – aside from this particular reception issue – Digital UK has offered to attend a community public meeting in the West End to update residents on the digital TV switchover as it is now becoming quite close. The organisation has previously spoken to West End Community Council some time ago and I will certainly be taking up their offer as there are clearly a lot of issues residents have with the TV changes that are upcoming.

Dundee TV problems

I recently highlighted complaints from constituents in parts of the West End about reduced and poor television reception in recent weeks, and have since had been inundated over the past week with feedback from people in the West End and from across the city about the issue. Today’s Courier covers the issue – see http://www.thecourier.co.uk/output/2009/04/06/newsstory12908876t0.asp

As indicated in the Courier article, it is very clear that there is an issue about the quality of TV signals for many people – particularly affecting ITV1 and Channel 4 reception and, for Freeview viewers who receive signals from the Angus transmitter near Tealing, also some digital channels such as ITV3.

I had previously spoken with Arqiva, the company that owns and manages TV transmitters across the UK, and, although they accept that there may be some disruption to services nearer to the time of the switch-over from analogue to digital, they assured me that there should be no disruption for Angus and Tay Bridge transmitter’s viewers at the moment.

 

There is, however, engineering work on-going at the Craigkelly transmitter, resulting in breaks in service and possible poor reception, although only a minority of viewers in Dundee get their TV signals from this transmitter situated in Fife.

However, it is very apparent from the dozens of calls I have received from local people that there is indeed some form of reduced power problem from Angus transmitter resulting in poorer reception on some channels for many viewers.

I have therefore raised the matter with Digital UK, who are charged with ensuring a smooth switchover from analogue to digital only signals, due in our area next year. Given the extent of the TV licence cost nowadays, at the very least people should expect good quality reception, not continual poor pictures or interruptions in programmes.


Interestingly, having been down in Sussex over the weekend, I had a read of the English edition of the ‘Sunday Express’ which led on the very issue of poor TV reception caused by the digital switchover – go to http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/93382/TV-Blackout-Chaos to view. 

West End TV reception complaints

As reported in today’s ‘Courier’, I have, over the past few days, highlighted complaints from numerous residents in parts of the West End over reduced and poor television reception in recent weeks.

I have been contacted by a number of residents who had expressed concern about their recent poor TV reception. Most receive ‘traditional’ analogue services from local transmitters at Tay Bridge or Angus, and residents have said they were concerned that this was because of work on transmitters to prepare for the digital switchover, which takes place in the STV North region next year.

I have spoken with Arqiva, the company that owns and manages TV transmitters across the UK, and, although they accept that there may be some disruption to services nearer to the time of the switch-over from analogue to digital, they have assured me that there should be no disruption for Angus and Tay Bridge viewers at the moment. There is, however, engineering work on-going at the Craigkelly transmitter, resulting in breaks in service and possible poor reception, although only a minority of viewers in Dundee get their TV signals from this transmitter situated in Fife.

Further details are available on the UK digital website – go to http://www.digitaluk.co.uk/how_do_i_switch/your_aerial/planned_engineering_works/Live_update.

I would be interested to hear from any other residents who are finding they are getting poor TV signals at the moment because there is something of a pattern with this – and am happy that any resident with such a complaint contacts me at the City Chambers, at my surgeries, calling me on 459378 or e-mailing tvproblems@frasermacpherson.org.uk.

I am continuing to liaise with Digital UK and with Arqiva on this matter.

Channel 6 – the TV station that knows where you live

As regular readers of www.dundeewestend.com will know, I have long highlighted the campaign for local television made possible by the digital switchover, and I have helped by chairing the Fife and Tayside Local Television working group. (See more at http://www.fifetaysidetv.com).

Peter Preston has an interesting item about local TV/Channel 6 in today’s ‘Observer’ – go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/mar/22/television-bbc to read it.

Positive progress on local television provision for the future

I was pleased to see the Scottish Parliament last Thursday pass the following motion – after considerable debate – on Ofcom’s Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Review :

 

“That the Parliament notes that 4 December 2008 is the final date for submissions to Ofcom’s Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Review, Preparing for the Digital Future;

recognises that, while broadcasting is reserved, there is a need for a healthy, competitive Scottish-based television programme-making sector outwith the BBC, notwithstanding that organisation’s historic, respected and pivotal role in Scottish broadcasting;

recognises the role of STV as the only remaining Scottish-based commercial PSB provider;

prefers Ofcom’s enhanced evolution option with a commercial TV channel continuing to provide PSB for Scotland as part of a wider UK network;

recognises that STV’s survival as a PSB provider is at risk in the current economic climate, particularly since ITV is now advocating a single UK-wide brand, and calls on Ofcom to explore all options to ensure that there is PSB competition for BBC Scotland in the nation’s rapidly changing broadcasting landscape;

further believes that all Scottish residents should have access to the full range of broadcasting following digital switchover, and calls on Ofcom to ensure that all relay transmitters are capable of transmitting the full spectrum of free-to-view broadcasting and that the 7th Mux is enabled in Scotland.”

 

Full marks to Iain Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Fife who responsible for the final paragraph in the motion being added, calling on Ofcom to ensure that all viewers get the full range of digital channels, whether or not they are served by a main transmitter, and that the 7th Mux is enabled, vital if we are to have local television provision across Scotland.

 

Also, an excellent contribution from Ted Brocklebank, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, who said,

 

“We firmly believe that a digital channel, partly funded by commercials, could also allow for the development of city and local TV, which is widely available throughout Europe, with Spain alone having 1,000 channels. Such broadcasting is also highly successful in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It has been suggested that up to 16 local TV channels could be viable in Scotland, which could provide up to 330 new jobs. However, we think that the Government should urgently engage with Ofcom to ensure that the spectrum is available for the roll-out of a vital new digital service.”

 

The Fife and Tayside Local TV working group, with which I have taken an active part (click on headline above to view more) has participated in Ofcom’s consultation and we hope that the regulator will respond positively to the consultation responses, the Scottish Parliament’s motion and the calls for local television provision across Scotland – a real plus that could be gained from the digital switch-over.

The digital TV switchover

As residents will be aware, I have raised the issue of the anaolgue TV “switch off” on numerous occasions. I have been in discussions with both Digital UK and Ofcom about the issues affecting Dundee.

I’m pleased to see Jim Tolson MSP, the Scottish Liberal Democrat representative on the Local Government and Communities Committee, question experts about the digital TV switchover.

As Jim said,
“It’s really concerning that experts admit that a two-tier digital system could develop for access to digital television.

“Liberal Democrats in Westminster and Holyrood have been actively campaigning to ensure a smooth transition between analogue and digital services.

“Given …(the) … evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Communities Committee, I expect Scottish Ministers to press the UK Government to re-examine the Communications Act. The Act must be amended to oblige the commercial organisations responsible for digital transmission equipment to ensure that a full digital service is accessible to all.”

United for Local Television

Earlier this month I gave an update on the blog on a number of Freeview television issues (see http://frasermacpherson.blogspot.com/2008/03/dundee-television-issues-update.html).

With specific regard to the issue of provision of local public service television for Dundee in the future, local MSPs Joe FitzPatrick (SNP, Dundee West), Alison McInnes (LibDem, North East Scotland) and Marlyn Glen (Labour, North East Scotland) all responded positively to my request to sign a motion in the Scottish Parliament on the issue – see below – I note that Nanette Milne (Conservative, North East Scotland) has also given the motion her support, so good to see all-party agreement on this issue:


S3M-01359 Cathy Peattie (Falkirk East) (Scottish Labour): Local Television— That the Parliament congratulates Ofcom on finding a means to deliver local television through Freeview to virtually every household across the United Kingdom; looks to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to introduce a licence in the near future to enable the provision of local public service television to be offered in each area at digital switchover, and urges the Scottish Government to consider how it can support the establishment of local public service television throughout Scotland.

Supported by : Jamie Hepburn, Rob Gibson, Bob Doris, Jim Tolson, Patrick Harvie, Trish Godman, Marilyn Livingstone, Tom McCabe, George Foulkes, Mary Mulligan, Pauline McNeill, Malcolm Chisholm, Hugh Henry, Robin Harper, Lewis Macdonald, Ted Brocklebank, Dr Richard Simpson, Nanette Milne, Alison McInnes, Jim Hume, Liam McArthur, Helen Eadie, Mike Pringle, Hugh O’Donnell, Marlyn Glen, Jamie McGrigor, Joe FitzPatrick, Ken Macintosh, Kenneth Gibson, John Park


Lodged on Friday, February 15, 2008; Current


There has also been a motion presented to the Westminster Parliament on the issue – click on the headline above to read today’s press release from “United for local television” about the issue. Here in Dundee, as I have previously indicated, the City Council’s Economic Development Director has made a detailed submission to Ofcom indicating that Dundee wishes to be considered for future local TV output, given the popularity of the former Channel 6 station in the City.
Local TV provision for Dundee would be an super development, so I’ll keep fingers crossed on the Ofcom front! Many thanks to all residents who have contacted me regarding this issue, for their support and encouragement.

More news from the last week …

The West End Community Council on Tuesday evening had two excellent presentations – one from Digital UK on the analogue TV “switch off” due in Dundee in 2010; the other from West End Tennis Club on their project to improve the club facilities. The Club has given me an update sheet on this which you can read by clicking on the headline above – and you can read more by going to the Club’s website at : www.westendtennis.org.uk
Last night, the “Community Spirit” group – to campaign for the Pentland, Tullideph, Ancrum and Cleghorn area (and surrounding neighbourhood) – held its first AGM and was formally launched, at a well-attended meeting in the Mitchell Street Centre.
It was great to see the enthusiasm of local people who are keen to get an active community group going for the area to help tackle local issues in the north part of the West End Ward – just as West End Community Council does so well for the southern part of the ward. City councillors, the Police and others are keen to support the group in its activities in the months ahead.
Also yesterday, I spoke with Mrs Latif, following the robbery at her newsagents in Lochee Road earlier in the week. The local community is shocked at another incident of this type in the area, and very concerned for Mrs Latif in particular. I have contacted Tayside Police to ask for the use of mobile CCTV units in the Lochee Road area, which I think will help reassure the local community.

Dundee Television Issues : An update

I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Andy Burnham MP) about the proposed different levels of TV channel provision planned for Dundee and the issue of Local Television for the City in the future. Additionally Lord Provost John Letford wrote to Lord Currie of Marylebone (Chair of the media regulator Ofcom) on the issue.

I have written in the past to the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and the industry regulator Ofcom about the fact that many of my own constituents in the West End cannot receive any digital terrestrial TV because they are served by the Tay Bridge relay transmitter that will not carry Freeview services until the digital switchover in 2010.

However, it is further disappointing to note that many Dundonians (along with many others served by relay transmitters) will still get a second class service after the digital switch over, as the Tay Bridge transmitter will not carry all the Freeview services that other transmitters already carry. Digital UK advises that the service from Tay Bridge will be called “Freeview Lite” which really means that it is light of many of the TV and radio stations others already receive – 36 TV and radio stations short to be precise.

I print below the Secretary of State’s full response on this matter :

Dear Cllr Macpherson

Thank you for your email of 20 December, regarding digital switchover and the Tay Bridge transmitter.

The Government has committed to ensuring that terrestrial analogue broadcasting signals are maintained until everyone who can currently get the main Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) channels in analogue can receive them on digital systems. In fact, 82% of households in Scotland, higher than the UK figure of 73%, can already receive 22 channels including BBC TV services, digital radio and services like E4, More 4 and Film 4. This is a significant gain from the five analogue channels. After digital switchover, 98.5% of UK households (the same percentage who can currently receive analogue signals) should have access to the 3 PSB multiplexes carrying these channels.

However, there are also 3 other commercial multiplexes. After switchover these multiplexes should be available to around 90% of UK households. Extending coverage beyond 90% is a commercial matter in this case and the decision to do this lies with the multiplex operators.

As you know, the TV licence fee is used to fund the BBC, and the principle is that everyone who can receive television signals pays for a licence for this purpose (which allows the BBC to produce programmes that might not otherwise be made, if market forces were the sole factor in play). It is payable in full irrespective of the use made of that service and the quality of reception.

The BBC operates a number of digital services for those who can receive them, and, during the process of reviewing the BBC’s Royal Charter, we did consider a reduction in the licence fee. We decided against this, as it could actually have worked as a disincentive to take up of digital services.

As part of the review of the BBC’s charter, we looked at alternative funding mechanisms for the BBC, and whether the use of a licence fee was still the best option. You may be interested in reading the discussions on this subject in the “Funding” sections of the Charter Review Green Paper (p58-64), available on the Charter Review website at: http://www.bbccharterreview.org.uk/have_your_say/green_paper/gp_funding.pdf.

We decided that for the present, the licence fee was the best option when considering the alternatives. We have committed to looking into this matter again half way through the current Charter (which should be roughly at the end of the switchover period in 2012) as we recognise that the broadcasting landscape is changing rapidly.

Yours sincerely,

ANDY BURNHAM

The digital switchover gives a unique opportunity to extend terrestrial television choice for people who don’t have satellite or cable TV and, for many like those in much of the West End, Charleston and parts of Broughty Ferry, the City Centre and Craigiebank who are served by a “relay” rather than a main transmitter, this choice of stations will be much reduced. The Minister’s response is therefore disappointing in this respect as the decision to categorise some of the multiplexes which carry digital TV signals as “public service” and others as “commercial” effectively meant that there would be two classes of viewers – those who get access to all the channels, and those who get fewer.

On local television for Dundee, Lord Currie has indicated to the Lord Provost that Ofcom welcomed views from communities where there is likely local TV demand, and the City Council’s Economic Development Director has now made a detailed submission to Ofcom indicating that Dundee wishes to be considered for future local TV output, given the popularity of the former Channel 6 station in the City.

A motion has now been placed before the Scottish Parliament encouraging Ofcom to support Local Television in Scotland (click on headline to view it). On a cross-party basis, I approached our local MSP Joe FitzPatrick (SNP) and NE regional members Marlyn Glen (Labour) and Alison McInnes (LibDem) and I am delighted that all three have agreed to support the motion and support the principle of local television for Dundee.

Addendum : See also –

Local TV

As residents are aware, I have had numerous discussions with Ofcom (the media regulator) about digital TV issues. Apart from the Freeview concerns (click on headline above to read more on these), I have discussed local TV provision with the regulator about the possibility of licences and local feeds from digital transmitters to ensure that Dundee could get another local TV service at some point in the future.

Residents will recall the popularity of the Channel 6 service that many people in the West End used to be able to receive when it transmitted its programmes from the Tay Bridge transmitter.

However, unless Ofcom allows for sufficient local tv licences for digital, further local television in the City would not be possible after the analogue switch off.

I have discussed this matter with the Administration Group on the City Council, who unanimously supported my suggestion of lobbying Ofcom to make Dundee’s case, and the Economic Development Department has written to Ofcom on the matter. I am pleased that both Angus Council and Fife Council has indicated support, as has Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA).

Ian Stewart MP, the Labour Member of Parliament for Eccles, has agreed to put the following Early Day Motion to the House:

“Local Public Service Television

This House congratulates Ofcom in finding a means to deliver local television to every household across the UK on Freeview and looks to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to introduce a licence for the provision of local public service television during the rollout of Digital Switchover.”

I have now written to our local MP in Dundee West Jim McGovern to ask him to sign Mr Stewart’s motion.

Busy Week!

Having spent the first part of the week in London with the “day job”, it has been exceptionally busy on return. Travelled via the new St Pancras International and (despite my dreadful photography attempt) you can see – right – that it’s a pretty impressive rail station.

On return to Dundee on Wednesday, I chaired the regional transport partnership board (TACTRAN) meeting in Perth and later attended the City Council’s Development Quality Forum at which the Depute Director of the Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (what we used to call the Reporters’ Unit!) spoke. It was extremely informative.

Yesterday, I attended a Digital UK update at Dundee City Chambers on the digital television switch-over, aimed primarily at housing providers. Most of my “digital TV issues” really lie with Ofcom (as previously covered on this blog) but as the organisation responsible for publicising the analogue switch off, I was keen to raise the concerns I have about the assistance vulnerable people (particularly the elderly and disabled).

Although there is assistance in terms of the cost of digital terrestrial equipment and aerial compatibility for elderly and disabled people, the latter aspect does not apply to people in flats, and given the very large number of people in flats and tenements in parts of the West End, this exception is of concern. Many people in tenements have complex communal aerial set-ups (often installed many years ago) and I consider it vital that elderly and disabled citizens get the help they need to ensure they get continuation of their TV services after 2010.

I am pleased to say that Digital UK confirmed that a flexible approach will be taken to ensure all necessary assistance is given to vulnerable people.

I would have been at the regional transport partnerships chairs meeting in Inverness today, but the weather situation resulted in cancellation.

Digital TV update

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:
Peter

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.

Best regards
Fraser
Cllr Fraser Macpherson
Councillor for the West End
Convener of Planning and Transport – Dundee City Council

Ofcom’s response :
Dear Fraser,

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

Best regards,

Peter

:: Peter Madry, Senior Associate Technical Advisor, Broadcast Technical Policy, Ofcom

And … Fraser’s further response:
Peter

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.

Best regards
Fraser

Community Council Meeting

An interesting West End Community Council meeting last night, with useful presentations by Tayside Fire & Rescue and Tayside Police.

Amongst the other issues discussed, I raised the proposal a few of us are keen to progress (with assistance from the University of Dundee) of a youth football group for the West End and the concerns about Freeview provision I raised in my Community Council update (click on headline to view).

The Digital UK Scotland Manager, with whom I have recently been in contact, is to be asked to address a future West End Community Council meeting about the issues. Apart from the general issues about converting all to digital TV and ensuring that all citizens including vulnerable and elderly households receive proper advice and assistance to covert their TVs, there are clear local issues about the proposed restricted service provision from the Tay Bridge transmitter.