In a move which will shock some and surprise many, broadcast regulator Ofcom has rejected pleas to free up additional spectrum space for free-to-air high definition broadcasts when the analogue TV system is switched off in 2012.
Both UK broadcasters and the electronics industry had petitioned for two more multiplexes to be made available, for either HD or a mix of HD and SD channels. However, Ofcom has confirmed that all of the available frequencies will be auctioned off to the highest bidders, in all likelihood telecoms operators.
The regulator insists that the ‘free market’ be allowed to decide what happens to the spectrum space.
The announcement could effectively close the door on free to air HDTV service in the UK, leaving high definition the exclusive preserve of the pay-TV satellite and cable service providers. It could also condemn Freeview to be an increasingly ‘second-best’ platform as the TV market evolves in the future. The regulator will invite consultation on its plans being finalizing them in the Summer of 2007. Ironically, the news comes as the BBC declares the first phase of it DVB-T HD technical trial a success.