Digital TV on hold

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN's launch of digital terrestrial television this autumn could be delayed because of a dispute with Belgium and France over the use of frequencies to broadcast the service. The Government needs approval from France and Belgium, among other Continental countries, to set up the 80 or so transmitters across the UK to broadcast digital terrestrial TV, since the sitescould interfere with services in Europe. And governments must first agree on frequencies.

The change to digital is expected to be as revolutionary asthe change from black-and-white to colour TV. But the commercial end of digital terrestrial TV, to be operated by British Digital Broadcasting, a joint venture between Carlton Communications and Granada Group, has become mired in technology and legal battles with satellite rival British Sky Broadcasting Group.

The frequencies battle would affect not only BDB, but also the ITV network and the BBC, which want to offer services in digital format as well. As many as 300 channels of pay-TV will be available by next year, with BDB broadcasting about 15 new digital pay-TV channels to UK homes using existing antenna.

Carlton and Granada agreed in January to invest pounds 300m in developing the new service, and BDB will become the first real pay-TV rival to British SkyBroadcasting Group, in which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp owns a 40 per cent stake. BSkyB also has separate plans to introduce as many as 200 channels of satellite digital television, starting next month.

Digital terrestrial TV uses ground-based technology that will gradually replace traditional analog TV systems. Huge growth in mobile communications systems is driving a need to free up radio frequencies. The new TV system will release existing analog frequencies while providing more capacity for television channels.

BDB could gain access to the 75 per cent of UK homes that do not receive analog subscription-based satellite TV services. The US, Finland and Sweden are also planning digital terrestrial TV.

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