Television viewers in regional blackspots just got a new year’s gift from the Rudd Government with an announcement that it will invest in a national satellite service to bring digital television to all of the country.
The major announcement addresses ongoing concerns that some regional viewers might be left behind in the transition from analogue to digital television.
The government will invest $40m annually to build and operate the satellite system, which it describes as an ongoing commitment. It promises to be in place before analogue is switched off in regional centres -the first of which begins by mid 2010 in Mildura / Sunraysia.
It has also reached an agreement with broadcasters to upgrade more than 100 regional analogue facilities.
The new service will effectively act as a replacement for viewers who cannot receive a signal from upgraded local broadcasters. But those viewers will need to install a satellite dish. The Government will provide a satellite conversion subsidy to ‘eligible households’ in relevant areas. It identifies 247,000 households as potentially accessing the new satellite system.
“All regional Australians will now receive the same television services as people in the cities,” said Minister Stephen Conroy.
“This is a fantastic outcome for people in regional Australia, many of whom have received limited television services for many years.
“This historic decision will dramatically improve the choice and quality of television services for regional Australia as we move towards digital switchover.”
The move promises to bring ABC2, ABC3, SBS TWO, GO!, 7TWO and ONE HD to all of Australia, and maintains local news via dedicated local news channels, something which regional broadcasters were rallying to keep last year.
Broadcasters will upgrade more than 100 existing regional analogue ‘self-help’ transmission facilities to operate in digital, while the Government will fully fund and build a new digital satellite broadcasting service for regional viewers who are unable to receive digital television from those facilities. Viewers who currently rely on ‘self-help’ sites that will be upgraded by broadcasters under this agreement will need to install a high definition set-top-box to access a full suite of digital television channels.
Any regional households not able to receive digital television from the upgraded ‘self-help’ sites will be served by the new satellite.
Senator Conroy said that the Government will be writing to ‘self-help’ transmission licensees detailing the new measures as well as providing further information to local communities.
The Government is currently consulting with broadcasters to identify the list of ‘self-help’ sites to be upgraded to digital for announcement in the first half of 2010.