Ireland - Digital TV network plan major boost in bid to sell concept



The introduction by the Government of a digital television network to Ireland is to get a major boost with the launch of a pilot project available to over one million viewers in the greater Dublin area.

Separate digital boxes will be needed in each household at a cost of up to €80 per year but it is understood these may be provided free in many cases to schools, Government departments and libraries.

No final decision has been made on cost but a reluctance to pay for a pilot service by people who already have cable or digital TV is being anticipated.

Planning for the project, expected to be carried out with RTE's co-operation, is advanced and Communications Minister Dermot Ahern is set to announce the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) project shortly.

The DTT demonstration would allow for free-to-air reception of RTE 1, Network 2, TG4 and TV3, broadcasting from Three Rock, Co Dublin. It is also proposed that at least six other channels, probably UK services, would be provided.

DTT is a method of broadcasting digital television services to households using a national TV network upgraded from analogue. It is already offered in Britain, Spain and other EU countries.

A Department of Communications spokesman said the Government is obliged under EU rules to deliver a digital changeover plan within six years. "In simple language that means that every citizen is entitled to get a certain level of TV service in each state from a digital network. This is the first major step in implementing that."

To fully establish a commercial digital TV network the Government would have to foot a bill of €40m. However, a recent report from National Economic Research Associates concluded plans for such a network were now "extremely unlikely" to be viable.

The report said the delay between the first failed attempt by the Government to launch a commercial service in 1999 and the present has undermined the chances of success for a commercial project. The 1999 government plan to licence a private operator to build a DTT network collapsed over network ownership disputes and the market downturn.

BSkyB's continued penetration into Ireland and the BBC's decision to broadcast its channels unencrypted here have also changed the competitive landscape, it stated. The report added the strength of cable and satellite here provides a strong challenge for an aspiring digital TV operator.