Minister warned of 'Corrie' blackout

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The Independent Online

James Purnell, the broadcasting minister, will be warned this week that a "Coronation Street bug" could deprive millions of low-income families of television following the digital switchover.

MPs on the Commons culture committee will demand to know what the Government is doing to ensure that families in deprived areas don't find themselves without television when analogue signals are switched off.

They will want action now to ensure that households are equipped with set-top boxes or integrated digital televisions. The Government has been told that up to one fifth of households, mainly from vulnerable groups, may find themselves unprepared when the changeover starts in 2008.

The warning has come from companies that specialise in helping low-income families. They are pressing for urgent action to be taken now to prevent households seeing their TVs go dark.

James Morris, chief executive of Digital Bridge, a firm that provides low-cost switchovers for families on council estates and with low incomes, said: "The Coronation Street bug is a very real problem. Millions of working families could be hit by the loss of their favourite TV programmes unless the proper support, technology and information are provided."

This week Mr Purnell is expected to tell MPs on the committee that low-income households and the disabled will see the costs of the switchover subsidised by the Government. And he will say that even elderly and disabled people who are not on low incomes will qualify for financial support.

"We are aware there is an issue about digital switchover and low-income households and it is something we are addressing. We do expect this to come up next week at the committee when the minister gives evidence," said a source close to Mr Purnell.

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