Last Wednesday, the National Communications Commission (NCC) announced plans to shut off the analogue TV signal, region by region, starting on May 7, ostensibly in the interests of maintaining viewers’ rights. The commission should carefully consider regional differences, based on the actual needs of urban and non-urban areas, in deciding the date it shuts off the signal, as well as the nature and level of assistance it offers.
First of all, the commission calculates the number of households in the various regions that will be affected by the switch, based on a national average of 1.8 percent. However, there is more to the story than this figure suggests.
In fact, only 43 percent of households in Chiayi County have cable TV installed. Fewer households in non-urban areas have cable installed compared with those in urban areas and the government policy of making the switch to digital for terrestrial TV is, consequently, going to be felt more keenly in these non-urban areas.
The commission is disregarding that, although there are fewer households in non-urban areas, the actual number that will be affected is greater. It has announced that the timetable for the switch will see the analogue system shut off first in these non-urban areas — where the impact is going to be greatest — and later in the urban areas — where it will have less of an impact. It is mind-blowing that the NCC could be so blind to the needs of the public and force these changes upon them.
Second, since the government is expecting the taxpaying public to foot the bill for all this, it could at the very least come clean about how it would benefit them. It is said that the shift to digital would lead to more channels and higher quality programming with more varied content. However, will the general public really see any of this?
The viewers who are to be most affected by the digital changeover are those without cable or multimedia-on-demand installed and those who do not watch TV over the Internet. They will have to buy a set-top box (STB) or a TV set with an internal receiver before they will be able to watch TV. A digital STB costs about NT$2,000. What percentage of a household’s income is that? A traditional TV aerial costs between NT$300 and NT$600 and with that you would have been able — prior to the switch — to receive any TV signal for life. Now, because of a change in national policy, if people want to watch TV they are obliged to buy another aerial. This is extremely unfair to people living in areas that have older populations and lower household incomes, and who are less affluent.
Policymakers’ failure to take a bottom-up problem-solving approach has already led to urban/rural inequality in household incomes, employment opportunities and public services. It looks like the same flawed approach will lead to inequality in access to broadcast signals. The public has the right to free access to information and terrestrial TV is a public service that the government is obliged to provide for the sake of the public’s right to know.
Of course, the government needs to oversee the switch from analogue to digital and the policy involves a wide variety of different aspects, including technical factors, industrial development and the national interest. However, when the implementation of the policy conflicts with public interest, it is time to look again at the government’s core values in governing the nation and where it places them on its list of priorities.