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Making the Switch

15 November 2006

Switching to digital television in commercial premises should be considered now even though the actual
switchover does not start until 2008 at the earliest, as Margaret Hodge, the Minister responsible explains
exclusively to PFM readers

The biggest change in broardcasting since colour television was introduced in 1967 will take place between 2008 and 2012, when all TV signals in the UK will be switched to a digital format.

As well as ensuring that people have a better choice in the TV they watch, switchover will help the UK maintain its position as a world leader in broadcasting, when today’s ageing terrestrial broadcasting network is replaced by the best technology available – digital.

Switchover will be a major event in broadcasting history and all TV users need to prepare - not only viewers, but also the landlords, managing agents and procurement professionals who are responsible for providing access to television services. I am working closely with Shaun Woodward, the Minister for Broadcasting, and with Digital UK – the independent organisation coordinating switchover – and Ofcom – the communications industry regulator – to ensure that switchover is a success. Remember that every individual will expect to be able to watch their TV after we’ve switched off analogue and converted the country to digital. Our role and your role is to make sure the switch from analogue to digital works for every citizen.

The process of digital switchover will take place by ITV region beginning with Border in 2008, followed by the Westcountry, Wales and Granada in 2009. West, Grampian and Scottish switch in 2010 and Central, Yorkshire, and Anglia in 2011. Finally, in 2012 when Meridian, London, Tyne Tees and Ulster switch, the UK will be fully digital.

The Government is fully committed to this timetable and although 2012 sounds far away, the process of making decisions and upgrading TV equipment and communal TV systems takes time. Already over 70 per cent of UK homes receive digital TV through an aerial, cable, satellite or a telephone line. Many public sector organisations have also already switched over; for those that still rely on analogue TV signals received through an aerial, now is the time to start planning for switchover.

Planning ahead will ensure the most effective procurement decisions are made, that adequate resources are available and that there is no loss of service on switchover in each region.

Adapting TV equipment canbe simple but when dealing with large premises, there are a variety of factors to be considered including cost (both in the short term and over the whole life of the installation), environmental impact (including selecting energy efficient products and disposing of any waste generated), and which services should be provided.

Communal TV systems are likely to need specialist attention if they are to distribute TV signals after switchover. And there is the option of thinking more widely about your communications infrastructure at the same time. For example, when East Thames, a registered social landlord in East London, decided to upgrade its communal TV system, it took full advantage of the opportunity. It now provides 180 households on one estate with a system that offers over 120 free digital TV stations, a community channel, broadband, internet and email access as well as computer services on the TV screen.

Providing for these services at the same time as implementing the necessary digital upgrades will be considerably less costly in the long run so organisations should think through the options carefully. Anchor Trust, the largest notfor- profit provider of housing support and care in England, is taking a longer term approach in upgrading its rental properties. It is converting them all to an integrated reception system capable of carrying satellite, terrestrial analogue and digital terrestrial TV signals, thus avoiding the need for further upgrades in the future.

For our part, we’ve announced a package of support for people aged 75 and over, and those with significant disabilities, who may find it difficult to switch. But if we are to provide support to individuals you will need to make sure the infrastructure is in place.

Switchover is going to be implemented across the country region by region. We have a pilot taking place in Whitehaven in 2007 and the first region will switchover in 2008 but large scale conversions can take time. Our advice is to start thinking about converting to digital now and ensure that the necessary provision is made well ahead of the switch in your region.

Action plan
....Anyone responsible for facilities or budget management needs to plan ahead for when TV signals will be switched to a digital format between 2008 and 2012.

.....After the switch, all TV equipment that is not yet digital will need to be adapted to receive digital broadcasts without adaptations.

.....Planning and implementing large-scale upgrades to communal TV systems can take time and organisations need to begin preparations now.

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