The UK’s television channels could all be forced off air and on to the internet, after the UK parliament’s upper house said the case for doing so would soon be “overwhelming.”
The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications has today published its report into the UK’s broadband sector, Broadband For All: An Alternative Vision.
“It is likely that IPTV services will become ever-more widespread, and eventually the case for transferring the carriage of broadcast content, including public service broadcasting, from spectrum to the internet altogether will become overwhelming,” said the report.
“We do believe that broadcast media will increasingly come to be delivered via the internet… This may well be a more sensible arrangement, as spectrum is perfectly suited to mobile applications. As such, it might be argued that spectrum’s current use for fixed, broadcast purposes is wasteful.”
The report went on to recommend that the government, media regulator Ofcom and the industry as a whole “begins to consider the desirability of the transfer of terrestrial broadcast content from spectrum to the internet and the consequent switching off of broadcast transmission over spectrum.”
The news comes as the last of the UK’s 26 million TV homes are completing the move from analogue to digital signals over the air. That change required a major overhaul not just of broadcast infrastructure but also home equipment.
A move from digital broadcasting to webcasting would require similar changes, including not only boosting the UK’s broadband network but also consumers acquiring new TV sets and set-top boxes.
The Lords committee said the UK would need a much better broadband network to take this next step but said the government’s strategy for making broadband a key public provision was “flawed” and may prove “illusory.”
“There has been an insufficient focus on properly thinking through questions of first principle, and an absence of an all-encompassing vision of pervasive broadband connectivity as a key component of national infrastructure,” the report said.
“Government policy has become preoccupied with the delivery of certain speeds to consumers. This, in our view, has had a detrimental effect on policy-making and the long-term national interest.”
Rob Gallagher, head of broadband and TV research at Informa Telecoms & Media, said the report was a wake-up call to the UK broadband industry. “Our research has shown that there’s much more to fostering an internet market than just bandwidth, such as the vibrancy of local content markets and cultural factors,” he said.
“For example, the average internet user in the UK generates nearly a third more internet traffic than their counterparts in Japan, despite the fact that tens of millions of homes in Japan are subscribed to 100Mbps services. In other words, build it and they won’t necessarily come.
“As such, ensuring equality of access seems a much more laudable goal than competing in meaningless global contest based on Mbps alone. While average internet usage in the UK is above those of a number of its peers, you can be sure it’s much lower for those poorly served by broadband today. The UK government’s current policy risks translating and even widening this gap to a next-generation world.”
The report comes as UK cable platforms, satellite broadcasters and telcos move towards over-the-top video platforms. TalkTalk’s YouView box was launched last week, BSkyB has also unveiled its Now TV service and BT is beefing up its BT Vision service with Premier League soccer rights.
The select committee’s report can be downloaded here.