Holgye’s detective work established that Vodafone is transmitting 4G signals from the mobile tower but the telco denied his reimbursement claim for the cost of fixing his television reception.
On investigating the issue, Vodafone determined that no changes have been made to tower in question in the last 12 months and that it is not transmitting on frequencies that which impact digital television reception. It did acknowledge that the location is a high-traffic 4G area.
Meanwhile, Holgye was forced to foot the $390 bill for the callout, including installation of a 4G filter and upgraded splitter. He’s not alone, with a neighbour facing similar issues.
“I have contacted the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and they don’t want to know about it,” Holgye says.
“The telecommunications ombudsman’s office say it’s nothing to do with them, I even contacted Victorian Consumer Affairs and again they say it’s not their responsibility.”
Television interference has been an issue since the launch of Australia’s first 4G networks in 2011. Some digital channels changed frequencies to reduce interference in the 700 MHz band, but it remains an issue as the country’s three major telcos continue to extend their 4G networks.
The new 5G rollouts are not expected to exacerbate television reception issues, as they do not use the 700 MHz band in Australia, but 5G can interfere with satellite services.
In the United Kingdom, where 4G signals and television broadcasts are closer together than in Australia, the communications regulator Ofcom established a $300 million fund, paid for by the telcos using 4G spectrum, to help viewers combat interference.
This includes paying for the installation of 4G filters, along with shifting some homes across to cable or satellite broadcasts.
In Australia, the ACMA does not provide financial assistance or hold telcos to account for interfering with television broadcasts. Instead, the regulator offers advice for affected viewers, plus it coordinates information sharing with telcos and antenna installers.
The cost of any changes to a viewer’s antenna system, including a possible filter, is borne by the viewer.
The “overwhelming majority” of households have not been affected, according to the ACMA, although a “small percentage” of television antennas which incorporate a mast head amplifier do experience signal overload.
“The cost of any changes to a viewer’s antenna system, including a possible filter, is borne by the viewer. The mobile telecommunications carriers are also not liable, provided their base stations are operating within specifications,” an ACMA spokesperson says.
Meanwhile Vodafone, Optus and Telstra all say they are abiding by the ACMA’s licence conditions for the use of the 4G spectrum and that affected viewers should consult the ACMA and an antenna installer for assistance.
Despite the ACMA’s insistence that 4G interference is rare, Holgye says the antenna installer who fixed his reception told him that 4G filters are required on around a third of all new jobs.
This is backed by the Melbourne television installers contacted by The Age and The Herald, several noted an increase in 4G interference in the last 12 months — particularly in the inner suburbs — while others reported that 4G interference is not a major issue.
“I really feel cheated that something like this can happen and there is no support or help to fix it,” Holgye says.
“I might be able to afford to get my antenna fixed, but a lot of people can’t and I think they deserve better than for all parties involved to deny responsibility for ruining our television reception.”
Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News.