U.K. to fade out analogue from 2008

Switch to digital TV to start in the west

LONDON — The five-year phased switch off of the analogue television signal in the U.K. is set to start in the west and north west of England and Wales in 2008, according to communications regulator Ofcom.

Provided the government accepts the watchdog’s blueprint, unveiled today — February 9 — homes in British cities including Plymouth, Exeter, Cardiff and Swansea will be among the first to be deprived of analogue TV and obliged to convert to digital reception.

Under Ofcom’s proposals London and the South East, Blighty’s most densely populated areas, are among the last to have their analogue signal nixed.

The aim is for digital switch over to be completed by the end of 2012.

Despite 60% of U.K. households having access to at least one digital TV service, huge obstacles need to be surmounted if the move to digital TV is to proceed smoothly.

Not least is the concern by politicians that forcing viewers to go digital, with all the extra costs involved, is a certain vote loser.

Therefore any confirmed timetable will have to wait until after the election of a new British government. This is expected to take place in May.

Another big problem is the cost of digital switch over and precisely who picks up the tab, a process likely to involve tough ne-gotiations and not a little horse-trading between broadcasters, regulators and government.

Last month, according to one estimate, it emerged that the total cost of switchover could be as high as $9 billion.

A further difficulty is what to do about those people, usually older and poorer members of society, who have no desire to buy into digital TV.

This section of the population may need to be offered free equipment, something that may in turn prevent digital agnostics putting off their move to digital.

It is estimated that some 75 million British TV sets need to be converted to digital by the end of 2012.

In a statement Ofcom said: “This frequency conversion process requires careful management to ensure that those analogue viewers using these frequencies at a specific transmission date prior to switchover are fully aware of the changes in advance and have sufficient time to convert to digital before the transition process is completed.”

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