Plan calls for nationwide b'casting by 2006

TOKYO — The Japanese government is leaning toward earmarking 200 billion yen ($1.53 billion) in a pending stimulus package to help broadcasters make the conversion to terrestrial digital television broadcasting, Post and Telecommunications Ministry officials said on Wednesday.

The money would be used primarily for the construction of 14,000 relay towers capable of broadcasting digital TV signals, officials said. “Although a final decision has not been made yet, the ministry is moving toward earmarking the money in order to help broadcasters make the conversion,” a ministry official told Daily Variety.

The ministry is pushing Japanese broadcasters to speed up the jump to digital TV in order not to be left behind by advances in digital television broadcasting taking place in the United States and Europe, which plan to start digital TV broadcasting this year.

The digital switch is also likely to bring an enormous boost to the Japanese consumer electronics industry as the market grows for digital television equipment.

At the end of March, an association representing Japanese television networks called on the government to help foot the estimated 665 billion yen ($5.12 billion) it will take them to switch to digital terrestrial broadcasting in 10 years. The National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters said the government needs to include money in the stimulus package, expected to be about $77 billion, to help broadcasters pay for the jump to digital.

The ministry is calling for testing of digital TV broadcasts to start in 2000 with digital TV broadcasting being launched in 2001 or 2002 only in Japan’s three major urban areas.

Nationwide broadcasting would begin in 2006.

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