Digital switch predicted to bring €533m windfall
THE State will net a windfall of up to €533m from the switch to digital TV broadcasts.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the current auction of airwave space left free by the turning off of analogue broadcasts was officially projected to reap €185m for the Exchequer, but he now hoped to raise even more.
DotEcon, the consultants to regulator ComReg, the state body carrying out the current sell-off of space for high-speed mobile broadband, has predicted it could raise up to €533m.
Mr Rabbitte said the revenue would provide a welcome boost to state coffers, and the new space being sold would greatly enhance mobile broadband services for consumers.
He said: "The budgetary figures anticipate a revenue stream of €185m. If it yields more than that . . . any money the Exchequer can get its hands on at the present time is very welcome.
"But as Communications Minister I'm even more interested in the capacity released to improve the quality of broadband in different parts of the country."
Telecom companies are bidding for chunks of the airwaves left free by the digital switch-over as they want to use it to provide high-speed 4G mobile phone services allowing consumers to quickly download large amounts of data.
Mr Rabbitte said the results of the auction were due within four to six weeks.
Yesterday's switch-over heralded "the dawn of the digital broadcasting era for this country and the release of an important dividend which will boost competitiveness", he said.
Only a small number of households would be faced with blank screens as there had been a "mad rush" over the past month to prepare for the switch.
Charity network The Wheel said it had worked with 2,500 local voluntary groups to identify and reach out to 52,000 people nationwide who were found to need particular help with switching to RTE's new Saorview digital service, often because they lived alone and didn't have technical know-how.
Some householders found it particularly hard to adjust to using two remote controls instead of one with their new Saorview set-top boxes.
But one elderly man who had never owned a TV decided to get one when he heard about the new digital TV service, said Wheel volunteer Alisha McCaffrey from Cavan.
RTE has invested €70m in the new Saorview service which includes eight TV channels and 10 radio stations, with the capacity to add many more. The digital service needed only 64 masts instead of the 176 used for analogue broadcasts.
RTE's Aertel teletext service has now also been moved on to an enhanced digital version.
Ireland is one of the last countries in Europe to change to digital free-to-air broadcasts, with Northern Ireland also completing its switch-over this week.