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Digital TV deadline

Italo terrestrial b'casters must upgrade by 2006

MILAN — By the end of 2006, all terrestrial broadcasting in Italy will have to go digital. The Italian Senate passed a law to that effect last week after many months of debate.

The legislation makes Italy the first country in Europe to fix a binding deadline for the replacement of all analog transmissions on terrestrial TV nets. Eventually, dishes will no longer be necessary to receive digital terrestrial channels; all Italian households will need a set-top box that will be subsidized by the government.

Testing new technology

In the next three years, national broadcasters — which include pubcaster RAI, Mediaset’s three channels, Canal Plus’ pay TV web Telepiu and Telemontecarlo (TMC) — will be allowed to acquire transmission networks and companies holding local broadcasting licenses to test the new digital technology.

Local broadcasters will be permitted to buy other local stations or merge with competitors to form larger groups. Publishing houses and new players not yet operating in the TV industry will be allowed to join consortia headed by broadcasters.

The legislation also dictates that big broadcasters such as RAI, Mediaset and TMC be obliged to offer 40% of their digital transmission capacity to “new players,” still to be defined by future legislation.

Open frequencies

All these decisions are expected to deeply shake Italy’s TV industry, which is dominated by the RAI-Mediaset terrestrial duopoly. The new law will open the frequencies market for the first time and pave the way for many deals and alliances.

“The digital revolution has started. We will finally overcome the traditional TV duopoly, opening the industry to new comers,” vice minister for communications Vincenzo Vita said.

In contrast to other European territories, where digital satellite and cable transmission is expected to remain the preferred method of transmission, Italy has an underdeveloped digital sector and cable is virtually absent, and digital terrestrial broadcasting may have a brighter future.

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