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Digital plan irks cablers

Gov't sets firm deadline of 2010

TAIPEI — The government stole the show at the first Taipei TV Festival, billed as the island’s largest confab and market for buyers and sellers, by announcing ambitious plans for the digitalization of Taiwan.

The government will revoke all licenses for analog TV channels by 2010 in a long-term agenda that includes new laws, regulations and tax breaks to nurture the fledgling industry.

Tax incentives for manufacturers of digital TVs begin this month. From 2006, the law will stipulate that new sets with screens of 29 inches or more must have built-in receivers for digital signals. The law extends to all TV sets manufactured after 2008.

“We’ve set a firm deadline this time, as opposed to the vague timelines of the past,” says Lin Chia-lung, head of the Government Information Office, which regulates the industry and organized the Nov. 28-30 confab.

The plan faces one hurdle: the island’s cablers, who feel that providing digital service under current circumstances is a losing venture.

Cablers are concerned about pay TV caps and preferential treatment of government-subsidized businesses. In addition, they question the government’s commitment to its own plan.

Currently, the GIO caps cable fees at $24 per month. Almost 80% of households have basic cable, which cablers consider a misnomer since the basic service includes what would be considered premium channels in other markets.

One topper, repeating what has become a mantra among cablers, says, “People in Taiwan treat cable as a utility, like electricity or water — and the government has re-enforced this attitude with its price caps. Until this thinking changes, I don’t think we can realistically talk about digital TV.”

In the past 18 months, numerous cablers have rolled out modest digital platforms, although none offers a full range of services.

Despite fears, cablers at the fest were in a cautiously optimistic mood. The GIO took pains to reassure confab attendees that — unlike in past years — this is a coordinated and concerted effort to digitalize Taiwan.

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