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Rural households face €200 charge when RTE pulls plug on analogue

HUNDREDS of thousands of households will have to pay up to €200 to keep watching TV when RTE switches to a digital-only service next year.

Some 300,000 customers currently using aerials will have to pay to install new technology to access RTE's new "free" Saorview service.

The state broadcaster is switching off the analogue signal at the end of 2012.

Cable and satellite customers won't be affected, but there are still swathes of the country where viewers have been heavily reliant on the analogue signal -- especially in rural areas and near to the Border.

But despite repeated calls, the Government will not be offering any assistance to the poorest TV customers for the start-up costs.

Customers will need either a digital set-top box hooked up to their existing TV, or else a modern TV with an inbuilt digital receiver.

Around 5,000 people will also need to completely replace their aerial and thousands more will need to make adjustments.

A survey by the Irish Independent found that customers will face costs of between €60 and €200.

The costs could be even higher for those who want to keep getting free British channels -- the price of installing technology to maintain this service could bring their total bill to over €300.

A spokesman for RTE Saorview said it had already written to a number of installers to warn them to stop misrepresenting themselves as employees of RTE or Saorview to drum up business.

Shopping around for digital TV equipment is vital, as costs can vary hugely.

Powercity had the cheapest Saorview-approved set-top box starting at €59.95. The price was twice as high at Expert Electrical in Arnotts, where the cheapest Saorview box was €119.

Instead of buying a set-top box, customers might choose to buy a modern TV with an inbuilt digital receiver instead.

After choosing either a set-top box or a new TV, some customers will also need to upgrade or adjust their aerial to be able to receive the new digital signal.

The costs of installing a new aerial if needed was put at €120 by one registered installer.

And the cost of installing a satellite dish, aerial and combi box that also allows access to BBC, ITV and dozens more international stations via Freesat was €320.

Irish Rural Link (IRL) estimated there were around 5,000 households who would not be able to find the money at all.

"TV is an absolute lifeline for people in isolated rural areas. The TV makers and retailers are going to do very well out of it so they should look at doing some kind of scrappage deal with the Government to help those most in need make the transition," said IRL chief executive Seamus Boland.

Age Action Ireland said assistance with the digital switchover was crucial and they were particularly concerned that vulnerable older people might be preyed upon by cowboy installers touting for business at the door.

Irish Independent