It was the 10th August 2021. The people of the UK had gone through a really terrible 18 months previously due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some were about to get yet another kick in the teeth when there was an unprecedented outage of TV services.
At approximately 1:30pm that day the TV went dark. Actually that’s not strictly speaking true. My TV came up with a blue background screen and a message saying there was no TV signal.
At first I didn’t really think too much about it. Remembering the advice I’d been given by support engineers for other devices, I turned the TV off and back on again. After a short delay, once again the ‘no signal’ screen was displayed. Thinking there might be a break in the cable to the aerial on my roof, I traced the route and did a quick visual inspection of the condition of the coaxial cable. Everything looked fine.
So I turned to the trusty internet and found a sight called DownDetector. I did a check on the TV service and sure enough, they were reporting that it was off. In fact many people were reporting the signal as being off in my area.
How could this be allowed to happen?
Having been involved in IT Networks over my years, I knew one major consideration was to provide alternative routing pathways to provide network resilience. When the UK switched over to digital TV services, this must have been considered, surely? It would seem not. The site itself was created in 1969 and it would appear, to a mere member of the public, that the opportunity to provide a more resilient delivery of the TV signal was missed or simply ignored.
A fire at the transmitter site had knocked the services offline cutting off the broadcasts to approximately 1,000,000 homes. Eight days later and we are still without broadcast TV services and still without any firm date when the transmitter will be brought back online and once again.
The wait continues
As each day passes without the broadcast TV service, people appear to be finding other activities to do rather than watch TV. I’ve heard of pensioners in their 80s suddenly finding the joy of Netflix and YouTube for their entertainment. Other people have told me it has given them a chance to catch up with the reading they had fallen behind on. People round here tend to be creative problem solvers.
However, the TV Licence issue still rankles me. The BBC wouldn’t allow me to watch TV for a week without a licence and if I did do that, I believe I’d be risking a £1,000 fine if I was caught. (For overseas readers, we need to pay for a licence in the UK to watch TV as it is broadcast.) So having failed to deliver the broadcast TV services for eight days, I’m starting to think about compensation and that points me fairly and squarely at the BBC, who in recent months decided that the free licence that was available to over 75 year olds would be stopped. The absolute minimum should be a refund of the fees paid for the days there was no signal. I think we’ll have to fight to even get that, but I’m adamant that I’m not prepared to pay for a service I was not provided.
I do suspect that if this outage had been in London, the resolution would have been implemented an awful lot quicker. (That is me speculating, but I can’t shake that feeling.)
I thought, the broadcast infrastructure was defined as ‘Critical National Infrastructure’ and indeed the Centre for the Protection of Critical National Infrastructure mentions communications as one of their thirteen designated sectors.
So why on earth are we still relying on infrastructure, originally created in the 1960 that has such an obvious single point of failure. If the mobile phone industry can build a network and allows for pathway failures and alternative routing, it cannot be beyond broadcast TV to do the same, especially considering they have the certainty of income from the licence fee.
Like many people nearby, I’ll continue to start my day retuning my TV, just in case the signal has come back, but I guarantee you, I’m not holding my breath. This may be the year I cancel my licence and only watch video on demand services.