Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Government's plan for digital cable hits new impasse

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government and cable television providers have reached a new impasse in the ongoing battle over the nation's roll-out of digital television services, an industry insider said yesterday.

At a meeting called by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to set the standard for digital television signals yesterday morning, the nation's largest cable operators protested new regulations that are forcing them to choose one standard for their competing services without proper consultation.

"There has been no resolution," 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, said yesterday.

"The [cable providers] expressed the opinion that it is not commercially feasible to force a compulsory platform on the industry," he said.

Terrestrial television channels have not agreed on one digital standard either, Shay said, adding it is unreasonable to demand that cable providers decide on one.

In order to reach the goal stated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Industrial Development Bureau Director-General Chen Chao-yi (陳昭義) on Monday to have 85 percent of the nation's homes connected to digital television via cable by 2006, the government has ordered providers to sell set-top digital descrambler boxes to consumers at below-market prices.

The providers are unwilling to lose money on the boxes, and say they should be allowed to lease or rent boxes to customers instead. They argue that the customer should be allowed to decide freely between openly competing and deregulated services.

For example, rented boxes can be returned and replaced when consumers change providers, Shay said yesterday, which would make the argument about standardized signals irrelevant.

Neighboring countries are also arguing about digital cable.

"There isn't one single box deployed in [South] Korea as there has been no agreement on standards," said Vivek Couto, executive director of HK-based research firm Media Partners Asia Ltd.

As of last month, only 0.4 percent of Taiwanese households had digital services, Media Partners reported.

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