ComReg seeks consultants for digital TV switchover


27 May 2008

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Ireland’s national telecoms regulator ComReg has issued a tender notice seeking consultants to advise it on a suitable approach to its digital dividend strategy, or the switchover from analog TV to digital terrestrial television.

The European Union plans for all member states to switch off their analogue signals by 2012.

In recent months, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Eamon Ryan TD, warned that unless Ireland moves to switchover from analogue TV aerials to digital terrestrial television around the same time as the UK, large parts of Ireland and at least 30pc of existing TV viewers will lose their access to UK TV channels.

During an interview last week, Minister Ryan confirmed that the Irish Government is aiming to switchover at exactly the same time as the UK towards the end of 2010.

In the UK, an extensive publicity plan lasting several months of press, leaflets, booklets, public meetings and TV adverts is planned and the switchover period is expected to last four months.

In the UK, three multiplexes will be for public service broadcasting and will contain 25 TV channels, half a dozen radio stations and half a dozen text/interactive services, while a further three mulitplexes will be operated by commercial licence holders.

In Ireland, it is still unclear how the multiplexes will be divided up. Minister Ryan has made it clear he envisages public sector programming in the mix, such as live Dáil/Oireachtas feeds.

Three consortia are in the running for the various DTT licenses that will be available. These include: the OneVision consortium including OneVision, which consists of TV3, Eircom, Setanta and technology firm Arqiva; the Boxer DTT consortium involving BT Ireland, media holding company Communicorp and Swedish operator, the Boxer Group; and the Easy TV consortium involving RTÉ and cable TV firm UPC.

According to the tender issued by ComReg, the regulator is seeking consultants that can produce a report on the experience of other countries which have already begun implementing the digital switchover, or Digital Dividend strategies.

The report will focus on how consumers will benefit from DTT and is expected to be produced in time for the ComReg annual conference, which will take place on 1 October next, where the consultants are also expected to make a presentation.

The results of the consultants’ report will contribute to a consultation process by ComReg to review potential approaches for Ireland’s digital dividend strategy in a national context.

By John Kennedy