COUNCIL chiefs are axing a cable TV service provided by Virgin Media after complaints about poor service and limited channels.

They will instead give 13,000 Southampton tenants the choice of hooking up to Sky TV or Freeview in time for the digital switchover in 2012.

Tory council leaders will spend £2.6 million installing a new system enabling tenants to receive digital TV signals from a communal aerial or satellite dish. The move was backed by two-thirds of tenants in a survey.

Almost all council tenants already get cable TV from Hampshire-based Virgin Media, formerly NTL, but many said they are unhappy.

John Radmore, treasurer of the Southampton Federation of Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said there had been complaints about picture quality and a lack of channels.

He claimed: “The reliability is dodgy. Some places can’t even get a signal. Some people have had to go and get Sky.

“People have tried ringing them but end up waiting on a premium phone line for half an hour. They say they will send out an engineer but they don’t. It’s awful. I think a lot of people will want to get Sky but they will all get Freeview channels.”

A Virgin spokesman said its cable TV service – featuring BBC1, BBC2, ITV Meridian and Channel 4 – had been provided since 1991, when it was run by Videotron.

She insisted: “We have always delivered what we are contractually obliged to supply. That service operates without a fault.”

The council said it would continue its agreement with Virgin until its properties are switched over to the new system.

A spokesman added Virgin could bid for the contract to install it when the council tenders next year.

The council will levy an annual service charge of about £30 to claim back the costs over 20 years. People on benefits won’t have to pay.

Cllr Phil Williams, Cabinet member for housing, said: “Council tenants, as well as 90 per cent of registered social landlords upgrading, voted for this system because it gives tenants and not the council the power to choose their equipment and TV services.

“We already use the technology successfully in Castle House and it should remove the need for existing satellite dishes.”