Government to net €180m from digital TV switch
THE Government will make €180m from the switchover to digital television, but will not help the poorest viewers pay for the switch.
The analogue TV service will be switched off on October 24 next year. Some 250,000 households who get their picture by aerial will have to upgrade by then to keep watching.
Irish Rural Link said there were 5,000 impoverished households -- mostly elderly people in isolated areas -- who would be unable to afford the €60 to €200 cost of buying a digital set-top box or installing digital TV.
However, the switch to digital will be a windfall for the Government because it will free up broadcasting space for broadband and mobile phone firms.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte estimated yesterday that the State would raise around €180m by auctioning this broadcasting space -- but he said no money would be provided to help people struggling with the new cost.
The auction of airwave space will take place by early next year and will eventually result in faster broadband for users around the country, he said.
Mr Rabbitte said the Government would now start a major information campaign, liaising with charities, community groups and the GAA, about the new service.
This was crucial, he said, as it would be easier to get through the very painful Budget ahead than to face a situation where a quarter-of-a-million people were deprived of their favourite soaps.
"Can you imagine the calamity if there were blank screens around the country? It would be an appalling vista that I don't want to contemplate," he said.
Broadcaster Gay Byrne was yesterday unveiled as the face of the switchover campaign. He urged consumers purchasing new TVs this Christmas to make sure they can receive Saorview, RTE's new digital TV service, which is already broadcasting in tandem with the analog service.
For those struggling to meet the cost, Mr Byrne said it might be worth waiting till closer to the time to upgrade as discount supermarkets, such as Aldi and Lidl, were likely to offer cheap set-top boxes for as little as €10.
The Saorview digital service is free to run once installed and provides a clearer picture and better sound than is currently available on RTE's analogue service -- with additional TV channels, such as RTE News Now and RTEjr, as well as extra radio channels.
However, because British TV is also going digital, viewers in border regions who currently get BBC and other UK stations via an aerial will have to install a free-to-view satellite dish if they want to continue to receive them for free.
TV viewers who have a UPC or Sky subscription do not have to do anything as they will continue to receive their service as normal.