Three broadcasters get equal share

ROME — The first major piece of the digital terrestrial TV spectrum was allocated on Thursday to Italy’s top three terrestrial broadcasters RAI, Mediaset and Telecom Italia Media, the most significant step yet to bringing Italians into the digital TV age.

The decision was made by Italy’s independent communications industry authority Agcom in Naples on Thursday. Agcom’s board voted to allocate equal portions of the DTT transmission spectrum to state pubcaster RAI, Mediaset and Telecom Italia Media in an effort to jumpstart the sluggish market and “to promote pluralism.”

Together, the broadcasters will have access to 40% of the DTT spectrum, the first of what could be a series of allotments apportioned to broadcasters as the market begins its gradual rollout in advance of the planned digital switchover in the next three to five years.

With DTT, legislators are anxious to avoid a repeat of the Italian terrestrial TV market, which is dominated by RAI and the Silvio Berlusconi-controlled Mediaset. EU anti-trust watchdogs regard the Italian terrestrial TV sector as a duopoly that must be broken up. Telecom Italia Media, which owns La 7 and MTV Italia, has less than 5% of the terrestrial TV market.

Italy lags behind its European neighbors in the roll out of DTT. According to a Censis study on Italy’s media habits released in October, the number of Italian households with access to DTT has grown from zero to 6.6% in the past year. At the same time, 72% of Italians watch solely free-to-air terrestrial TV, the highest percentage in Western Europe, the same study says.

But change is in the air. Portions of Sardinia, including the regional capital Cagliari, made the forced switchover to DTT in the past week.

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