Why a cable operator has brought back terrestrial TV in Switzerland

Legal loophole exploitation brings back digital terrestrial television in one part of Switzerland.

Earlier this year, Swiss broadcaster SRG turned off its digital terrestrial television service, bringing an end to TV via an aerial in the country.

It also ended the legal basis for cable TV operators in neighbouring countries to carry the channels via overspill free-to-air reception across the border, which meant they had to cease offering the affected channels.

Enter Austrian cable company Lampert who found a way to generate an overspill signal:

Swiss law allows private operators to request a digital terrestrial television frequency for the purpose of relaying TV channels on a free-to-air basis without the consent of the affected broadcaster.

So Austrian cable company Lampert did just that, and received permission from Switzerland's Federal Office of Communications (Bakom) to launch a DVB-T multiplex from the Hoher Kasten mountain close to the Swiss/Austrian border (pictured above).

From its position 1,800 metres up in the Alps, the transmitter's signals easily reach across the border into Austria and Liechtenstein, where Lambert and other local cable TV providers pick up the signal and relay it to customer's homes. Individual households can also receive the signal directly via antenna, but mountainous terrain makes for difficult reception in places, which is one of the reasons why terrestrial TV was only used by a few thousand before its original closure.

All cable TV providers that benefit from the signal are contributing to the service provided by Lampert, according to Swiss website 20minuten, who reported on the legal trick performed by Lampert. According to the report, the Swiss authorities were fully aware of the cable company's intentions, but also confirmed all the legal requirements were being met, including broadcasting the service on a free-to-air basis from the transmitter.

Legal restrictions mean that only cable companies in range of the terrestrial television signal can relay the Swiss channels in this manner, for the rest of Austria, reception of Swiss TV is curtailed: encrypted reception of the main Swiss channels via Austria's own terrestrial network ended shortly after the main Swiss terrestrial switch-off.

Now other neighbouring countries have shown interest, with French operators interested in setting up a transmitter near Geneva, in a location that would overspill into France. In southern Germany, politicians are reportedly also interested: Swiss television was once widely available in the south-west corner of the country, where cable companies relayed the overspilling terrestrial TV signal. SRG/SRF tried to curtail overspill reception by reducing the power from its transmitter on the over 2,500 metre high Säntis mountain to just 4kW.

Lambert claimed that viewers were interested in the channels because the news was more relevant to them than what was occurring in distant Vienna: many locals in western Austria commute into Switzerland rather than over the mountains into the rest of Austria. However, SRG's TV channels are also popular because they offer live sport, dramas and series that are shown behind the paywall in other countries.

  • Did you know? Relaxed Swiss laws on relaying free-to-air signals on cable networks with a broadcaster's consent also mean that all major Swiss cable and internet TV platforms carry the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 by relaying the overspill satellite reception from Astra 2E and 2F. The north west corner of Switzerland can just receive the edge of the UK spotbeam signal via a regular, domestic-sized dish, so can relay the signals onto their networks.

[Image: Wikipedia, CC licence]
[Source: 20Minuten, translation Mike Manning]