Digital television could be forced on viewers

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The Independent Online
Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, raised the prospect last night that the analogue television signal may be switched off early to force people to buy digital equipment.

Mr Smith told the Royal Television Society's Convention in Cambridge that in order for digital television to succeed one option was to switch off the analogue signal before viewers had "moved to digital of their volition". Such a procedure would make existing television sets redundant.

He added: "I also want to ensure universal access to the current free to air public service channels and I want that access as soon as possible to be through digital services so as to end the current wasteful use of valuable radio spectrum for analogue terrestrial broadcasting."

Digital television will begin broadcasting next year on cable, satellite and terrestrial television, and will provide many more channels than the analogue system allows.

Although Mr Smith was keen to promote a swift switch to digital, he said there would be a "very long period where analogue and digital would run simultaneously". He said that independent research was being conducted to ascertain "the technical options; the potential role of the various players and the economics of the transition to digital".

The Government was keen to take a clear lead in the new broadcasting age in order, he said, "to make the benefits of the information age as widely accessible as possible as quickly as possible".

An early transition to digital broadcasting would, Mr Smith said: "Put the UK at the cutting edge of developing new services including interacted services, as well as new technologies."

On a separate issue, Mr Smith told the conference that plans to modernise the regulatory framework of the media industry were in train, but that a single regulator across telecommunications and broadcasting was unlikely.

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