Amid the escalating cost of living, the essential role of digital terrestrial television (DTT), also known as Freeview, and broadcast radio services cannot be overstated, especially for millions of UK families bearing the brunt of digital poverty.

These platforms are more than channels for entertainment; they are a critical lifeline for low-income households. Besides lacking access to superfast broadband connectivity or personal internet devices, these families can also face challenges in acquiring digital skills and affording streaming subscriptions. This means that free at the point of use DTT and radio are essential for providing content, entertainment, and news that are accessible and affordable to everyone. 

A staggering 83% of low and fixed-income broadcast viewers regard these services as essential sources of affordable entertainment.  The urgent need to boost and address digital inclusion isn’t just a goal; it’s fundamental to fostering a fair and equitable society where no one is left behind.

Despite the government’s goal of achieving nearly universal broadband coverage by 2030, a recent report by consultancy group EY predicts that approximately 5.5 million UK premises (18% of the total) will remain without a high-speed broadband subscription by 2040, due to various obstacles in adoption. 

This sits against the backdrop of up to 2 million UK households struggling with the cost of broadband services, and individuals with disabilities are significantly more likely to struggle with the digital skills needed for online viewing or listening – as reported by Ofcom’s Digital Exclusion Review in 2022.

DTT and radio’s provision of free, quality content at the point of use is a testament to their invaluable role in ensuring inclusivity in the digital age.The prospect of exclusively online access to TV and radio content threatens to marginalise those without broadband further, particularly those vulnerable groups such as the elderly, people living with disabilities, and lower-income households. 

However, the future of these services in the UK faces uncertainty, with current government policy only securing them until the early 2030s. The Media Bill, which is navigating its way through Parliament, represents a critical opportunity to enshrine the future of broadcast TV and radio services into law. It has undergone its second reading in the House of Lords, where voices  advocated for the inclusion of broadcast services protection within the Bill. Baroness Fraser has tabled an amendment that would do just that.

With Ofcom’s review of the UK TV distribution market coming soon and concluding by 2025, the findings will significantly influence the future accessibility of universally available broadcast TV.  The Broadcast 2040+ campaign, backed by over 35 organisations including the Digital Poverty Alliance, advocates for a government commitment to maintaining broadcast services within its future media policy.

Together, we can champion the cause of digital inclusion, ensuring continued access to essential services for all UK citizens, especially those most at risk of falling through the cracks of the digital divide and the cost of living crisis. This collective effort is not just about preserving access to entertainment; it’s about affirming the right to participate fully in our digital society, reinforcing the importance of digital inclusion as a cornerstone of social equity and justice.