Broadcasting minister Shaun Woodward says ministers are keeping an "open mind" on calls for spectrum use after digital switchover. An alliance of public service broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers is lobbying the Government over an Ofcom recommendation that all the spectrum liberated by analogue switch-off should be auctioned in 2008.
The HD for All alliance wants a third of the spectrum to be set aside so that five high-definition television channels could be launched on Freeview. Without the ring-fencing of spectrum for HD, the alliance fears it will all be sold to telecommunications groups for services such as mobile broadcast television. Ofcom's Digital Dividend Review consultation ends on Tuesday.
Addressing journalists at a press conference unveiling the digital switchover date for Whitehaven, Woodward said switchover would make future services such as HD and mobile TV possible. Asked by Lovelace Consulting if spectrum would be set aside, Woodward said it was "very important" that Ofcom's "work is allowed to play out". "We are very mindful of the public service arguments," said Woodward, but ministers could not predict what the spectrum might best be used for in future.
"The danger here is that we try to see around corners," added Woodward.
Last week trade and industry minister Margaret Hodge sought to dispel industry speculation that Chancellor Gordon Brown is seeking to maximise revenues from the spectrum auction. "This spectrum [auction] is not about maximising money for the Treasury," Hodge told the Digital Television Group's annual summit.
In a letter to The Guardian yesterday, the HD for All alliance said more than 4m people would buy HD-ready screens this year. While research showed viewers expected to be able to watch HD channels without subscribing to satellite or cable, public service broadcasters would not be in a position to bid "for the spectrum to carry them, given the likely competition with businesses that can charge a premium to their customers".
Lovelace Consulting | 16.03.2007