TV regulator to begin analogue switch-off in 2007

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The Independent Online

Thousands of households will receive notice next year that their analogue television signal will be switched off by 2007, the media regulator said yesterday.

Thousands of households will receive notice next year that their analogue television signal will be switched off by 2007, the media regulator said yesterday.

Ofcom, which is headed up by Stephen Carter, has proposed that all analogue broadcasting should cease by the end of 2012. "This could mean beginning the switching sequence as early as 2007," the regulator said.

The switching of the signal will be done on a rolling regional basis. As the Government has committed to giving affected households two years' notice that their traditional signal will no longer function, the homes in the region picked to be first must be informed next year if their area is to be digital-only from 2007.

The move will mean that broadcasters will have to pay to convert hundreds of analogue masts to digital - Ofcom yesterday estimated the cost of this at £34m.

However, it remained unclear if there would be any financial help for those households unable to afford digital receiver equipment and who would pay for this.

Another unresolved cost is the public information campaign that will be needed to accompany the switch-over process. Ofcom said that a new organisation, "SwitchCo", will look at these issues and ensure that the 2012 target is met.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "The fact is that the industry will have to pick up most of the costs of this."

It is understood that some or all of the costs would be recouped by the broadcasters affected - the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and five - by reduced payments for holding their broadcasting licences.

In 1999, Chris Smith, then Secretary of State for the DCMS, announced that switch-off would occur between 2006 and 2010.

Ofcom's announcement of 2012 yesterday confirmed that the Government's timetable would not be met but the Liberal Democrats complained that Tessa Jowell, the current Secretary of State at the DCMS had failed to announce this to parliament.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on media, said: "There has been five years of umming and aahing over the actual date. If they had acted a bit sooner, they may have made 2010."

The DCMS said Ms Jowell referred to 2012 in a speech she gave in the Commons in July. However, Mr Foster pointed out that the Secretary of State had merely noted that the BBC had proposed that 2012 should be the target date for switchover, without stating whether the Government agreed. According to some reports the DCMS has been unable to get the Treasury to agree to fund a large- scale public information campaign.

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