HD on Freeview 'a political decision' says MP

Peter Luff

The chairman of an influential parliamentary committee says it is "unreasonable" to expect Ofcom to make what amounts to a "political decision" on whether some spectrum liberated by digital switchover should be reserved for high-definition (HD) channels on Freeview. An alliance of broadcasters, consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers is lobbying for spectrum to be set aside for HD broadcasting on digital terrestrial. Ofcom has postponed a final decision on the issue while it conducts more research, but Tory MP Peter Luff, chairman of the Commons trade and industry select committee, says the regulator was working with technical information that "appeared to be severely deficient".

Luff told Ofcomwatch, the blog that comments on the regulator's activities, that, philosophically, he agreed with "Ofcom's first decision ? that spectrum should be allocated by a market-based mechanism because they cannot make the judgments between competing uses".

"But you do get into some very difficult decisions quite quickly," said Luff. "Two principles emerge from this, in my view: the first is the extent to which Ofcom is being asked to take political decisions rather than market decisions. The question of HDTV ? is it something that people have a right to get free of charge? And the hard-pressed broadcasters (and they are hard-pressed in the commercial and the state sector) haven't got extra money to spend on more spectrum.

"So, it's a political decision ? I think Ofcom got a political decision delegated to them. I think it's been unreasonable.

"The second issue is the quality of the technical information Ofcom brought to the debate. For the first time in my experience with Ofcom their technical information appeared to be severely deficient. So they were taking political decisions on the basis of bad technical information."

Luff said the issue meant Ofcom would be "open to much more challenge now". "I think about people like me who had worked under the assumption that it was a relatively benign organisation that did things broadly right. Now we are saying 'hang on, they got that one wrong, let me make sure they got this one right'. I think they will be open to more scrutiny as a result on the technical side of their work rather than on their judgments on issues of a more political nature."

Lovelace Consulting  |  13.06.2007

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