€70m RTE digital TV switch gets signal to go nationwide
RTE is to build a multi-million euro infrastructure for digital television in the country, under plans that were approved yesterday.
A week after it emerged that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is to shelve the commercial tender for digital terrestrial television (DTT), Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said yesterday that RTE would push ahead with its €70m scheme.
Under the terms of the plan, RTE will build a digital service to provide full coverage for the Republic and "significant" coverage in the North. The service will have to be ready on time for the switch-off of the analogue TV service, which is slated to end in 2012.
The infrastructure will involve both terrestrial and satellite coverage. The terrestrial network will be based on 51 transmitter sites covering 98pc of the population. For the remaining 2pc, RTE plans to develop a satellite service that would ensure full coverage nationwide for the first time.
Plans for a roll-out involving a satellite service were revealed earlier this month by RTE but that was pending approval from Mr Ryan's office. That has now been given.
The plan entails making available seven to nine free-to-air channels as well as a number of radio stations.
The state broadcaster had indicated that the channels would include RTE One and RTE Two, TV3, TG4, RTE News Now, RTE One+1, Euronews, RTE Children's and 3e but Mr Ryan raised the possibility of a movie channel being included as well.
It is expected that most houses will not have to upgrade their television but some may require a set-top box. That box could cost between €100 and €200 but the Government will consider a subsidy for pensioners and those on social welfare.
Homes that already have a satellite or cable connection would not need to upgrade their equipment. The DTT switchover has been mired in controversy since the contract for a commercial partner was offered to tender some years ago. Several consortia that had bid for the contract then rejected it after the BAI refused to renegotiate the terms despite the recession.
Mr Ryan said that while he regretted that the plans did not include any private investment, the switchover must go ahead and will provide scope to develop rural broadband access.
"Going digital will also free up a valuable spectrum which can be used for broadband and mobile services," he said.