WRC2023 (World Radiocommunications Conference 2023)

For those of you who have been following the developments of the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC23) in Dubai here are the choices for the future of the way the UK receives its Terrestrial Public Broadcast services:

‘No change’ – the frequencies between 470MHz and 694MHz to remain allocated to terrestrial TV, Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE).

‘Co-primary allocation’ – the frequencies are no longer solely allocated to terrestrial TV and PMSE. They are also available to mobile network operators for future mobile services.

What the broadcasters have said to Ofcom:

Talking Pictures TV
The vintage film and television channel supports the ongoing use of frequencies for terrestrial TV:

“[Terrestrial TV] is free at the point of use – delivering a diverse range of content, including public service broadcasting. This provides access to affordable and reliable programming that has a clear impact on personal wellbeing and community cohesion.

We would like to reiterate our support for a ‘no change’ position.”

The BBC’s Director General Tim Davie previously promoted an internet-only BBC. However, the BBC told Ofcom it would support the ‘no change’ position on the basis that it would provide more time for the UK to get viewers migrated to internet-only TV.

The BBC also said:

“A ‘No Change’ position at WRC is the only way for the UK to retain control of its TV ecosystem and distribution approach, which will allow them to carefully time and manage the DTT to IP (Internet Protocol) switchover processfor the benefit of audiences, including some of the most disadvantaged or vulnerable groups, for the creative sector, and ultimately the UK as a whole. They believe that a decision to allocate this spectrum should be deferred to a future WRC.”

In the meantime, the BBC working with other stakeholders to develop ‘Freely’, designed to replace Freeview in a streaming environment.

Together TV
Together TV told Ofcom: “We are seeing the impact daily that the loss of Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) coverage has – hundreds of viewers have written in to complain they can no longer receive Together TV and that their TVs are not connected or capable of running the IP delivered version of the channel.”

“However, given that many poor, old, isolated, and vulnerable families are unlikely to switch to IP only TVs and/or have high speed broadband in the very near future, we emphasised the need for the current Freeview DTT distribution networks to be maintained for the foreseeable future, and emphasized the need for universally affordable high-speed broadband before any IP ‘Digital Switchover’ could take place.”

That’s TV
‘That’s TV’ submission to Ofcom stated: “We are strongly committed to the future of DTT and believe that it is critical that there is no change in the spectrum made available for national, local / geographic services that rely upon it.”

ITV, Channel 4, and Paramount (owned by Channel 5) have not commented.

DTG (Digital Television Group)
Telecom companies are of course broadly in favour of ‘co-primary’ allocation. However, the DTG explained to Ofcom why this is problematic:

“In supporting “no-change” the DTG notes that there are claims that it is possible to sustain DTT and PMSE services in the UK if adjacent countries chose to use co-primary allocation to launch mobile services, however in practice history demonstrates that this would be very challenging; previous co-primary allocations have resulted in a harmonised removal of PMSE and DTT from that spectrum. It follows that a co-primary allocation at WRC23 could unintentionally force the UK to move to clear PMSE and DTT from some or all of 470-694 MHz”

Moving forwards:
There are clear divisions between broadcasters and telecom companies each having their own vested interests. The option to have ‘no change’ for now will push the decision back to the next WRC in 2027 and by then Freely will be available, which if successful could help more viewers adopt streaming as their content delivery platform. However, there are concerns about internet speeds in the UK and the increase in cost for the user who would need to pay licence fee plus their internet service charges to have access to PBS over IP. The road ahead is not quite clear and there is no easy path affordable access for everyone.