Japanese nets ask gov’t help on switch

Tab on terrestrial b'casting estimated at $5.12 bil

TOKYO — An association representing Japanese television networks on Tuesday asked the government to help foot the estimated 665 billion yen ($5.12 billion) it is going to cost them to switch to digital terrestrial broadcasting in 10 years.

On April 1, the Japanese government is expected to introduce an economic stimulus bill to parliament calling for more than $77 billion in government spending, and Seiichiro Ujiie, chairman of the National Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters, thinks some of that money should be earmarked for the digital conversion.

Most stimulus packages introduced by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, however, are heavily weighted with pork-barrel projects to benefit the construction industry, not funds for TV towers and relay equipment.

“If the government wants us to launch digital TV services quickly, it should make investments in the infrastructure as part of its public works spending package,” Ujiie said at press conference.

Japan’s Posts and Telecommunications Ministry was pushing Japanese networks to start terrestrial digital TV broadcasting by the turn of the century so they don’t get left behind by innovations in the U.S. and Europe.

Earlier this month, however, the ministry moved the planned 2000 start date back by one to two years, to 2001 or 2002. The ministry decided to set up a one to two year test period — starting in 2000. Digital TV broadcasting would start in Japan’s three major urban areas in 2001 or 2002, and nationwide broadcasting would begin in 2006.

Ujiie, who also heads Nippon Television Network Corp. (NTV), said the government should help build 14,000 new broadcast towers for digital service and then lease the towers to broadcasters at a later date. He said major investments by the networks now could depress the broadcasting industry at a time of possible recession in Japan.

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