Ahern calls for broadband delivery via digital TV

5 Nov 2003

Using digital television as a means to deliver broadband in Ireland is being explored in an upcoming government report, according to communications Minister Dermot Ahern TD.

The report on digital television in Ireland, ‘The Digital Switchover Plan’, is expected by the end of the year and will outline the potential for broadband connectivity.

Speaking in the Seanad yesterday on the Broadcasting Funding Bill, Minister Ahern said: “My Department is consulting with industry on delivery of digital television … I want whatever solution that emerges to include the possibility of a broadband telecommunications offering. This will improve the economics of the platform. It will also provide much-needed cross-platform competition in the broadband sector. And it could provide universal broadband connectivity.”

The Minister said that this broadband offering is very relevant to rural Ireland where the market is not addressing broadband demand, which he called “a vital tool for economic development and regional policy”.

The Minister told the Seanad that in delivering digital television there was little point in Ireland mimicking the failed and costly experiences of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) elsewhere in Europe.

“In recent years the debate on broadcasting in Europe has been dominated to a significant degree by issues related to digital television. The debate has focussed on what technology will win out – or what business model is most likely to succeed. Some have criticised the lack of progress in this area,” he continued. “They ignore the spectacular failures of a number of pay DTT platforms. They ignore the copyrights issues, which our broadcasters would face on many digital platforms. In simple terms if, for example, RTE stations are broadcast unencrypted on a digital platform, the programme and film makers would demand much higher and crippling broadcasting royalties. My bottom line is this – I want digital platforms for Ireland which work.”

He added: “I have instructed my officials to assess the options for rolling out digital television services in Ireland and in particular the options related to digital terrestrial television. This consideration is being informed by international experience.”

Digital television offers customers better picture quality and can supply a range of interactive services such as betting or email. Industry experts attending a conference in Dublin in April this year highlighted the potential of digital television but questioned its economic viability in Ireland. Media analysts believe that it would cost up to €120m to fund the construction of a digital terrestrial network, subsidise set-top boxes for consumers and market the digital television service in the Republic.

By Brian Skelly