Forty-four-year-old Yuan Chuen-hua (袁春花) lives with her two daughters in a metal shack in Lishan (梨山), Greater Taichung. The family partly relies on government subsidies for low-income households.
“We don’t have money to pay NT$500 a month for the cable service,” she said. “To watch television, we have to secretly connect to another family’s cable.”
She received a notice one day from the Heping District (和平) office informing her that she would be given a free set-top box in line with the government’s plan to switch to digital TV service this year.
After officials from the National Communications Commission (NCC) came and set everything up for her, she can now watch 16 terrestrial TV channels, including one high-definition (HD) channel, thanks to the gap filler station launched in Lishan over the weekend.
“The TV images are clear, and we do not have to pay monthly fees for the service,” Yuan said. “Some of my neighbors bought set-top boxes and could not see anything. When I told them what happened, they wanted to come and see if it was true.”
Lishan is one of the 50 gap filler stations built by the commission as a complementary measure to -facilitate the transition from analog service to digital service in July. Located 2,200m above sea level, the gap filler station in Lishan is the highest in the nation.
Liou Huei-fong (柳惠豐), a section chief at the commission’s Central Regional Regulatory Department, said that residents in Lishan could not see either analog or digital terrestrial TV service because the signals were blocked by the surrounding mountains.
In the past, residents required satellite dishes partially subsidized by the government to watch 10 terrestrial TV channels, he said.
Liou said that the gap filler station was built in the machine room of Chunghwa Telecom (CHT) in Fushoushan (福壽山), which receives signals from the nation’s five terrestrial TV networks through the CHT’s ST-2 satellite.
The TV signals can be further transmitted to households equipped with set-top boxes to receive them, he added.
The station enables 3,036 households in the Lishan area to watch terrestrial TV channels.
Commission spokesperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said 41 gap filler stations had been built, adding that nine other stations were scheduled to be completed by April.
Chen added that the commission would budget about NT$30 million (US$992,550) annually to pay for the utility fees generated by the gap filler stations to ensure they can continue to operate.
While the government is offering free set-top boxes only to low-income households, Chen said some could not be reached by the commission’s contractor, which was entrusted with giving them out. Only about 70 percent of the 85,000 set-top boxes to be given out last year had actually been delivered.
“Either they could not find the persons based on the addresses provided by the Ministry of the Interior, or they kept missing the families because they kept moving,” Chen said, adding that the commission would assist those families who did not receive set-top boxes by July.
Statistics from the Interior ministry showed the nation has about 120,000 low-income households.
Chen said that those who are not categorized as low-income households must buy set-top boxes themselves, adding that those who have not purchased their own will not see any terrestrial TV channels in July.