Tue, Sep 30, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Government sets deadline for digital cable switchover

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government yesterday finalized 2006 as the deadline for the nation's cable system to switch to digital, but disagreements with the nation's largest cable operators over standards and regulations could push that deadline back, experts said yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference organized by the Digital Television Strategic Alliance -- which includes government bodies, state-run television stations, cable operators and digital TV and de-scrambler box manufacturers -- a Ministry of Economic Affairs official pledged to have more than 85 percent of homes hooked up digitally by the 2006 deadline.

"China has a target of switching its television signal to digital for the Olympic Games in 2008," Industrial Development Bureau Director-General Chen Chao-yi (陳昭義) said. "We have to be there before 2008."

The move to a digital system is expected to give viewers more television and information channels, electronic mail, electronic shopping from home and fast Internet services on their televisions. Between 100 and 200 million homes will switch to digital worldwide next year, Chen said.

But cable operators -- who have already shelled out millions of dollars in the switch to digital and feel aggrieved by government caps on the fees they charge -- have yet to agree with the government's demands.

"The 85-percent figure by 2006 is very optimistic," said Arthur Shay (謝穎青), director of the Cable Broadband Institute in Taiwan (台灣有線寬頻產業協會) which represents the major providers.

"The new broadcasting law forces all cable operators to carry all-digital channels by 2006, but the operators feel that this is not just unreasonable, it also conflicts with the Constitution," Shay said.

While the fights continue, the end-user will lose out, another expert said. "The business model to get to 85 percent penetration hasn't been set yet," said Vivek Couto of the Hong Kong-based research firm Media Partners Asia Ltd. "There has been a lot of disagreement, and the question of standards could lead to a glitch in implementation."

The operators are scheduled to meet with the Ministry of Transport and Communications to iron out some of the problems this morning.

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