Thursday, 12 January 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
164. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to put in place a waiver system in cases of hardship where people are unable to afford the cost of switching to Saorview; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1730/12]
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): I am very much aware of the challenges digital switchover brings, in particular for households that are reliant on the existing “free to air” analogue TV network. I wish to make clear from the outset, however, that I have no plans to introduce waivers for persons to upgrade their television equipment. All households solely reliant on the existing “free to air” analogue TV network will need to upgrade to digital TV by 24th October 2012, the date of analogue switch off, or they will lose access to television services. TV households can choose to upgrade to digital TV by moving to a pay-TV service or by upgrading to Saorview, Ireland’s national digital TV aerial network, which was launched by RTÉ on 26th May 2011.
To upgrade to Saorview, TV households will need to purchase either a Saorview approved set top box to connect to their existing TV or a new Saorview digital TV. In some cases, depending on the type of aerial, the orientation and age of the aerial, some TV households may need a new aerial or aerial adjustment. The number of these is estimated to be around 20,000 TV households. Experience from other European countries indicates that the cost of set top boxes and other digital receivers reduces as the date for digital switchover approaches, and there is increased competition in the market. There is clear evidence that this is now happening in Ireland with affordable set top boxes that meet the Saorview standard now coming on the market, as well as a range of suitable digital televisions. In addition, experience from other European countries also shows that the availability of accurate and reliable information and the provision of practical assistance is the most effective approach towards assisting people in making the switch to digital television.
In this regard, therefore, to overcome the challenges that digital switchover brings, I have undertaken to deliver a substantial information campaign providing households with information on the digital switchover and on their options for going digital. This information campaign commenced in quarter four 2011. There are a number of strands to the campaign including a national telephone helpline and a national advertising and public relations campaign. The campaign will run up to the end of 2012.
In conjunction with this, my Department has been working to address the particular information and assistance needs of vulnerable households as they prepare to go digital. In this context, the expertise and local knowledge of the many voluntary and charity organisations around the country is of critical importance in ensuring the success of the switchover process. On January 10th 2012 I signed an agreement with national voluntary organisation, the Wheel, to develop and operate a nationwide community outreach digital switchover programme (Outreach Programme).
The Wheel, in conjunction with voluntary and community organisations throughout the country, will roll out a countrywide Outreach Programme in April 2012, which will provide additional assistance and advice at community level to those who may find the move to digital TV difficult. The aim of the Outreach Programme is to ensure that everybody is made aware of the switchover and that no TV viewers are left without a TV service once the national analogue TV service switches off on October 24th 2012. A press release issued and is available on my Department’s website at www.dcenr.gov.ie.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Under Section 123 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by Part 4 of the Communications Regulations Act 2011, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, I may pay RTÉ and TG4 in respect of each financial year an amount equal to the total of receipts in that year in respect of broadcasting (TV) licence fees, less (i) any expenses incurred in relation to the collection of those fees and (ii) an amount being equal to 7% of these net television licence fee receipts, which is paid under Section 156 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in respect of the Broadcasting Funding Scheme.
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