Key decisions over the timing of the switchover to digital TV
across Britain will be taken by the end of this year, Culture
Secretary Tessa Jowell said today.
But the vital issue of
whether the Government will subsidise set-top boxes or cable
connections for those who opt not to update their TVs themselves
will not be settled for some time after that, she suggested.
Media regulator Ofcom has proposed a timetable for the
analogue signal to be switched off region by region between 2008
and 2011, when Britain will be fully digital.
But the Government has yet to commit itself to final details
for the plan, which is likely to spark opposition from viewers
happy with the existing five terrestrial channels and resentful
of having to buy new electronic equipment to carry on watching
Ms Jowell today said it would be “unthinkable” for anybody to
be left unable to watch TV because of the switchover, and said
that the needs of vulnerable people, particularly the elderly,
would be uppermost in her mind when the final decisions on how
it happens are made.
But she stopped short of offering Government support for the
purchase of set-top boxes – currently on sale from around £40 –
or the adjustments to aerials that may be needed to receive
“I expect decisions to move quite rapidly between now and the
end of the year on the exact timing and the phasing,” she told
BBC1’s Breakfast With Frost.
“There won’t be a national switchover day. What will happen
is that regions will switch one at a time.
“All the undertakings have to be to ensure a very clear
transition for people, and very particularly elderly people,
vulnerable people, people who may find it hard to cope with new
technology. We’ve got to make sure that before we press the
button, their interests are looked after.”
Asked if needy people would be helped with the cost of
switching to digital, she said: “That is not yet certain. We
have seen the price of boxes come down. You can now get a box
for under £40.
“We are not at the point yet of making decisions about
whether we need to give free set-top boxes.
“Those decisions will be taken, but they are decisions for
three or four years’ time, not now.”
Ofcom’s recommendations, published last month, envisage the
West Country, Wales and the far northern counties of England
going digital in 2008, followed by the North-West and Scotland
in 2009, Midlands and Yorkshire in 2010 and London and the
South-East in 2011.