Covid-19: Freeview postpones frequency changes




The step removes the risk that vulnerable households that need in-home support might lose essential TV services.

The last remaining Freeview frequency changes have been postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The changes formed the final part of a project to clear terrestrial TV services from some frequencies to facilitate more 5G services.

It means a chunk of frequencies - the 700MHz band - won't now be completely cleared until later this year, instead of in a month's time.

There had been concerns that engineers from Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited (DMSL), the company set up by the mobile operators to assist viewers with the changes, would not be able to offer in-house support, including retuning and installing new aerials, where required, due to social distancing rules and difficulties accessing homes where inhabitants have been told to shield themselves for 12 weeks.

Who is affected?

Viewers will now not need to retune their Freeview TVs and boxes in the North West (Granada) TV region on 22nd April, as previously planned. There will also be no changes in North East Wales on the same date, nor any changes a week later on the Isle of Man or the Lake District.

Viewers who were affected by February's initial stage of the frequency change in North West England will continue to find BBC channels from channel 751 upwards, where they will continue broadcasting on their old frequency until further notice, for the benefit of homes where the aerial or communal system hasn't been upgraded.

Had the changes in the North West taken place, all of the main public service channels would have transitioned to new frequencies, forcing every household to retune, leaving those unable to retune their TV or needing a new aerial to receive the new frequencies without a service at a time when record numbers of viewers are depending on public service broadcasters to stay informed.

Frequency clearance changes have already completed across the rest of the UK, as part of a region-by-region retune over the past three years, leaving the affected areas as the last parts of the UK where TV services continue to use the full 700MHz frequency band.

New dates will only be set when it is "operationally viable" to do so, according to Freeview.

A Freeview spokesman told the RXTVlog today:
Work on the 700MHz clearance programme is on track and was planned to complete in April 2020. However, given the current situation with Coronavirus, we and our broadcast partners understand the importance of the continued delivery of public service channels to viewers and together with Government have taken the decision to delay the final stages of the programme to ensure these services continue to be broadcast as normal during these exceptional circumstances. Clearance will resume once all partners agree it is safe and operationally viable to do so. 
Our partners at DMSL are doing their utmost to continue in-home engineer visits for eligible viewers following required changes to Freeview channels in their area and are arranging these in accordance with the latest guidelines from Public Health England and Government information around social distancing. 
Where homes are without access to any of the main public service channels, these visits are being prioritised should they be deemed essential by the viewer. Other appointments will be temporarily postponed until Government advice changes to allow greater flexibility.

The Freeview website will be updated shortly with confirmation of the postponement.