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Switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting
The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting should be carried out in a harmonious and speedy manner. The European Commission intends to speed up the transition to digital currently under way in the Member States by setting a deadline for completion of 2012 at the latest. The Commission stresses that the advantages of the transition to digital will only truly be felt when the transition is completed in all of the Member States.
Communication of 24 May 2005 from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social committee and the Committee of the Regions on accelerating the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting [COM(2005) 204 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
In this communication, the Commission examines the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. The phase in which the two broadcasting systems co-exist, based to a large extent on terrestrial platforms, must give way to a phase in which the conversion to digital is accelerated.
One of the advantages of digital television is that it offers a growing range of fully interactive applications allowing for interaction between viewer and broadcaster.
Setting the deadline
The Commission proposes that the beginning of 2012 be agreed for switch-off in all Member States. The national switchover plans should therefore all be completed by 2012. It expects that by the end of 2010 the switchover process should be well advanced in the EU as a whole. Austria, Germany, Sweden and Italy have already decided to complete switch-off by the end of 2010 at the latest. The United Kingdom and Belgium have set their deadlines for 2012.
The Commission considers that accelerating the process and setting a deadline will contribute to overcoming the current fragmentation of European digital television markets.
The advantages of the switchover process
Aside from providing better picture and sound quality, the switchover to digital broadcasting offers clear advantages for both consumers and operators.
These advantages stem from the fact that it is possible to process and compress digital data in a more efficient manner than was the case for analogue signals.
Consumer benefits from digital television compared with analogue television are as follows:
- a wider choice of programmes from a greater number of channels and radio stations;
- improved flexibility of use thanks to better portable and mobile reception;
- services that are more interactive thanks to the improvement in IT services;
- the potential to contribute to serving the specific needs of the elderly or disabled by providing them with services such as better subtitling, audio commentaries or signing;
- lower sale prices for digital receivers and integrated television receivers; Price is increasingly becoming less of a barrier to acquiring such equipment.
For operators, achieving the advantages of switching over from analogue to digital television presupposes the following:
- lower transmission costs in the future. The Commission has noted an upward trend for the market share and the supply of digital broadcasting. For example, in the United Kingdom, the market share for digital broadcasting has already reached 57 %. The Commission estimates that by the start of 2010, Europe will mainly have gone over to digital broadcasting.
- freeing up additional frequencies. The available space will make it possible to reuse parts of the radio frequency spectrum (radio spectrum) for new radio broadcasting services that incorporate the advantages of digital and convergent services combining features of mobile telephony and terrestrial broadcasting.
The Commission is encouraging national competition authorities to take action to ensure that the dominant firms on the market respect the provisions of the Framework Directive of March 2002 on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications services and networks.
Conditions for a successful switchover to digital
Certain conditions are necessary if these advantages are to be achieved. The Commission considers that coordination between national broadcasters must be given new impetus during the process of switching over to digital. Such coordination essentially requires agreement on the sequence for the different phases of the switchover to digital.
While respecting the principle of technological neutrality, a State may take proportionate steps to promote certain technologies specific to digital broadcasting as a means for increasing spectrum efficiency. The Commission encourages the Member States to do so.
Another condition for success is linked to the implementation of an information strategy for consumers as regards the programmes available on the digital platforms and the equipment required to receive them. Encouraging consumers to switch to digital is therefore a necessary condition.
Towards a pan-European dimension
Even partially continuing analogue services in some Member States would act as a barrier to the introduction of these new services and would affect competition with the rest of the world. At the national level, any spectrum dividend will therefore depend to a large extent on the number of neighbouring countries which have already achieved switch-off. Achieving this goal will only be possible at the European level upon the complete cessation of analogue broadcasting within the EU and neighbouring countries.