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Japan gov’t to aid jump to digital

TOKYO — The Japanese government is willing to help fund the networks’ shift from analog to digital ter-restrial television broadcasts, the post and telecommunications chief said Friday.

Speaking at a news conference, Telecommunications Minister Hisao Horinouchi said the Japan Development Bank or other government- backed lenders could help networks amass the capital to make the shift to digital broadcasts.

Horinouchi ruled out direct government financing of the change, but did acknowledge the government needed to help networks defray the costs of making the change.

The announcement follows a telecom ministry recommendation earlier this month to have in place by 2000 a digi-tal system for terrestrial TV broadcasts. The ministry said testing of the digital system would start by 1998.

The ministry’s decision to go digital by 2000 was met with an ambivalent response by most broadcasters.

The National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan, the industry’s representative group, said networks were reluctant to make the change to digital because of the huge amount of capital that would be needed to make the switch.

The telecom minister said in his press conference the government is stepping in because it is essential for broad-casters to start on the road to digital in order not to fall too far behind the U.S. and Europe.

“If broadcasters do not act now, then they will just lag behind. We have to switch to the digital format,” Horinouchi said.

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