Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Session 2005-06

29 March 2006


Analogue TV Switch-Off must not leave viewers in the dark

The Government has been warned that if its plans for analogue switchoff are to succeed ‘it needs to lead and be transparently accountable for its policies.’

A report by the Culture Media and Sport Committee argues that there need to be ‘clearer chains of command with precise responsibilities specifically defined’ with a Government minister being appointed as a ‘visible champion’ to manage the process.

MPs believe there is a danger that Digital UK, the body overseeing the process, will ‘lack the authority and resources to manage the interests of a diverse group of industry stakeholders should their bonds of mutual self interest come under strain.’

Plans to force people to switch to Digital TV by 2012 will, by the Government’s own estimate, cost an ‘average household’ between £80 - £570.

The Committee concludes the Government should do far more to explain to the public why they have chosen to proceed with analogue switch-off now, what options are available to people and on whom the costs and benefits will fall. More also needs to be done if the full opportunities of the switch-over to digital are to be realised. Encouragement should be given to consumers to take advantage of the full range of facilities now available through digital transmission and decisions about the future use of released spectrum need to be taken quickly.

The report argues that more should be done to support vulnerable groups who might struggle with the switch. ‘The scope of the Government’s targeted assistance programme is too restricted and fails to acknowledge those who, by dint of income or social exclusion, are in genuine need. With analogue switch-off beginning in two years this matter requires urgent consideration.’

Responsibility for the administration of the targeted assistance scheme for vulnerable groups must be clearly assigned. The scheme should take into account the need to provide adequate funding for the voluntary sector, which will play a vital role in providing practical assistance to vulnerable groups.

Commenting, Committee Chairman, John Whittingdale said:

‘The move to digital is unstoppable and offers considerable benefits. However, analogue switch-off also carries with it significant risks. Whilst the Government can be commended for its decision to start the process of switch-off in just two years time, it needs to start leading from the front if it’s to ensure that it can be achieved smoothly and with maximum public support and the minimum of disruption.

More must be done to help those who will struggle to install or simply understand the digital technology. Currently there are too many people who do not qualify for government assistance, yet are in genuine need. If switch-off is to be a success, there must be no-one who wakes up on the day to discover that they are watching a blank screen”

 The Committee also concluded that:

•  As provision of TVs and other receiving equipment to vulnerable groups is a social cost the use of Exchequer funds (rather than the TV licence) to meet this cost is more progressive and justified given the value of the spectrum released. It also places accountability properly on the Minister’s desk.

• The BBC’s next licence fee settlement should take into account the Corporation’s share of the building the DTT network. However, this in itself does not justify an above inflation settlement. Whatever the outcome of the latest negotiations between the Government and the BBC on the next licence fee settlement, it is vital that the relevant figures are subjected to independent audit and the detailed conclusions of such an audit published.

•  The Government decided to go ahead with the switchover because ‘the benefits far outweigh the costs’. For 2012, it is calculated that the net benefit of digital switchover comes to £1.7 billion. However, the outcome of the cost benefit analysis is subject to a wide margin of error. It remains our view that the benefit side of the cost-benefit analysis is very subjective, and that the narrow economic case for switchover in inconclusive.

•  Consumers must be given clear advice on the necessity of engaging a reputable installer. Trading Standards and other enforcement bodies must be alert to the risk of “cowboys” attempting to exploit lack of understanding.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1.  The title of the Committee report is ‘Analogue Switch-off: A signal change in television’.

2.  Embargoed hard copies of the report will be available from the House of Commons Press Gallery and the reception of 7Millbank, London SW1P 3JA from 1200 Hrs Tuesday 28th March 2006.

3.  Media Bids/Request for interview with the Chairman should be directed to Luke Robinson on 07917 488 549.

4.  For detailed information the Culture Media & Sport Committee can be contacted on 020 7219 6924.

5.  Members of the Committee are: Mr John Whittingdale OBE (Chairman) (Conservative), Janet Anderson (Labour), Rosemary McKenna (Labour), Mr Nigel Evans (Conservative), Adam Price (Plaid Cymru), Paul Farrelly (Labour), Mr Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat), Mr Mike Hall (Labour), Helen Southworth (Labour), Alan Keen (Labour), Philip Davies (Conservative).