Headlines: April 18th, 2001

Pilot areas across the UK are to be offered free conversion to digital TV as a means of looking at how to increase take-up across the board. So far the take-up of digital TV isn’t moving as fast as the Government had hoped – which delays its hopes of switching off analogue transmissions and selling released frequency bands by 2010.More importantly, the slow take-up of digital technology is threatening the UK’s aim to be a world leader in the field.

Getting a mass audience used to sending emails, ordering shopping and learning using digital technology gives the country’s broadcasting and communications industries a lead in the global marketplace. There is also a digital divide issue, in that the households who fail to take up the technology, miss out on the opportunities offered.

Over the next two months the sites for ‘digital neighbourhoods’ will the chosen and the scheme should be up and running in six months.

The programme will help government and industry understand better the practical and social issues people face in deciding whether to switch from their existing analogue television homes to digital TV.

Households in areas selected will be supplied with free equipment allowing them to watch all the existing free terrestrial channels on digital TV with the promise of improved reception, as well as to access the current free digital TV channels, including ITV2, BBC Choice, and BBC Knowledge.

They will also be able to use their TV set to access interactive internet services including learning and shopping, and to send and receive e-mail.

Twenty broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers of digital technology have expressed an interest in the project, which will be led by the Independent Television Commission (ITC).

The Government will fund research into viewer requirements of those taking part, looking at what people watch, whether viewing habits change, whether viewers are watching less or more television, and whether viewer needs are being met by the equipment and services. The research will also evaluate internet access and usage.