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Italo gov’t OKs rebate on digital TVs

Incentives are viewed as the strongest measure yet

ROME — Italians next year will receive a rebate of up to 3200 ($256) off the purchase of new digital-ready TVs under a $43.4 billion budget law passed Sunday afternoon.

The incentives — which amount to as much as a 20% discount on such purchases as a new high-definition TV — are viewed as the strongest measure yet by the Romano Prodi-led government to jumpstart the relatively slow takeup of digital television in Italy.

The government has said the mandatory switchover from analog to digital TV will happen by 2012. Still, Italy lags well behind neighboring European countries in digital uptake. According to a study released last month by market researchers Censis, 72% of Italians watch solely terrestrial TV, compared to 50% in Germany and 31% in Britain.

The digital TV rebate is not entirely new ground for Italians. In 2004, the Silvio Berlusconi-led government offered rebates for purchases of TV set-top decoders, a move that helped Rupert Murdoch’s newly launched satcaster Sky Italia to amass close to 4 million subscribers in its first three years of operation.

There is a catch with the new law. To qualify for the discount, a consumer must be able to prove they have paid their latest TV tax to pubcaster Rai, a bill that runs around $128annually.

The Ministry of Communication has said it will not stop with TV rebates. The government will include up to $51.3 million per year in incentives for consumers to invest in digital TV equipment over the next three years.

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