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.
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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.