Japan plans for run-up to digital

Country aims for smooth transition over 3 years

TOKYO — Japan’s communications ministry on Thursday outlined its plan for smoothing the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting over the coming three years. Analog broadcasts are skedded to end in Japan on July 24, 2011. Spending for the plan is expected to amount to 220 billion yen ($2.05 billion).

Among the measures proposed is the distribution of cheap digital-to-analog tuners to households unable to afford digital sets. The ministry also plans to support the development of low-cost tuners. According to a recent ministry survey, only 43.7 percent of all TV households currently own sets able to receive terrestrial digital braodcasts.

Another is to underwrite the installation of reception towers so that households whose digital signals are blocked by buildings and other obstacles can receive them.

Still another is a package of countermeasures to defend consumers against unscrupulous dealers of unreasonably pricey or uneeded digital gear.

The ministry plans to complete a comprehensive digital transition plan in August for the fiscal 2009 budget, skedded to go into effect next April.

In a related story, on Wednesday Michisada Hirose, the chairman of the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters in Japan (NAB), told reporters that commercial broadcasters will spend 90 billion yen ($841 million) on investments in facilities and equipment to complete the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting over the next three fiscal years. He also predicted that up to one third of regional broadcasters will fall into the red in spending for the digital changeover.

The 127 NAB members are expected to invest a total of 144 billion yen ($1.345 billion) in moving from analog to digital. They started spending the coin in earnest in 2003 and investment has already amounted to 70 billion yen ($654 billion).

According to Hirose’s figures, 93 percent of all TV households can now receive digital terrestrial broadcasts, though many still do not own digital sets. By fiscal 2011 NAB plans to up this percentage to 99.3 percent.

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