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TV drama as east loses out on digital

PUBLISHED: 16:52 17 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:52 03 March 2010

NEW BBC adverts for their new digital television stations are proving a real turn-off for much of Suffolk - most viewers can't get the digital signal.

And now television chiefs have dropped a bombshell by telling viewers in the Ipswich and Felixstowe area we're unlikely to get digital television in this part of the country in case we upset the Belgians.

NEW BBC adverts for their new digital television stations are proving a real turn-off for much of Suffolk - most viewers can't get the digital signal.

And now television chiefs have dropped a bombshell by telling viewers in the Ipswich and Felixstowe area we're unlikely to get digital television in this part of the country in case we upset the Belgians.

The BBC has spent millions of pounds setting up its digital services, and buying a third of the Freeview system, but only 75 per cent of the country can get these services through their aerials.

In large areas near the east and south coasts of the country, international laws mean homes can't pick up the signals.

And in these areas the only way of watching digital TV is through a satellite dish - or by cable in Ipswich and part of Felixstowe.

By the end of the decade there could be total chaos - the normal analogue system is due to be turned off.

That might free space for more digital transmissions in east Suffolk - but the government plans to auction off these frequencies to mobile phone companies.

If digital television signals are not introduced, viewers could be forced to buy a satellite dish - which can cost up to £300 - if they want to watch even the basic five channels.

A spokeswoman for Freeview, which operates digital terrestrial services in Britain, said there was no prospect of the east Suffolk area getting the signals.

"The transmitter at Sudbury cannot broadcast digital signals to that part of the county - and it is not possible to build new transmitters nearer the coast," she said.

"There are problems with the available broadcasting range - and we cannot boost the existing signals because there is a danger they would be carried over the North Sea.

"There are treaties between European states to prevent broadcasts overlapping," she said.

Freeview can be received by about 75 per cent of households in Britain, but large numbers in the south east - Kent and Sussex as well as East Anglia - are unable to pick up the signals.

In some areas viewers can pick up only a few of the digital channels - in north west Ipswich digital BBC channels can be picked up by Freeview but no other channels.

And in one small area of town - between Coes on Norwich Road and the Dales - Freeview is apparently fully available.

The government's department of Culture, Media and Sport confirmed today that it still intended to switch off analogue signals sometime between 2006 and 2010.

"We shall only do that when we are satisfied that everyone who currently gets public service channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five can continue to do so.

"That might be through digital terrestrial television, by satellite, or cable," he said.

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Freeview digital boxes cost about £99 and can be simply plugged into an existing aerial - there is no further charge.

Satellite dishes are normally supplied as part of a package to receive BSkyB services - but they can be supplied separately at a cost of £120 including installation, provided they can be plugged into a telephone landline.

However if you don't want it connected to the telephone system, the cost of a satellite system is £299.99 - and then there will be an additional installation fee.

Freeview itself has three owners: the BBC, BSkyB and Crown Castle Communications - so it is partly funded by the licence fee.

A spokesman for Hughes TV said they had received many inquiries about Freeview decoder boxes which the company does sell.

"We always warn customers that they might not work in this area," he said. "But in some parts of the area where there is not supposed to be a signal, they do work.

"If someone does want to buy one, we will sell it and they can bring it back within a fortnight if they find they cannot get a signal.

"But it is frustrating that this area is so badly covered by the new service."

Among the keenest television viewers are pensioners - but many of them cannot afford to pay for new digital services.

"If people had to pay £300 to carry on watching television, I don't know what they'd do," said Geoff Wright from the Ipswich branch of the Suffolk Pensioners' Association.

"Personally, I'm so active I don't watch much television so I'd just get rid of it - but there are many people for whom it is a real comfort," he said.

"When you see how little pensions have gone up, you can see how a big expense like this would be a blow to a lot of people," he added.


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