Sat, Feb 04, 2012 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Experts query digital cable TV policy

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE:The NCC is considering allowing cable operators to turn off analog signals once 60 percent of their subscribers have switched to digital service

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff Reporter

The National Communications Commission’s (NCC) announcement this week that it plans to lift the digital cable television service penetration rate to 100 percent by 2014 has been questioned by a number of media experts.

Last year, the Executive Yuan set what was considered at the time the ambitious goal of raising the rate to 75 percent by 2015.

Although the nation is already scheduled to turn off analog signals for terrestrial television service in July, digital cable service has achieved a penetration rate of only about 10 percent, the commission said.

Since 2010, the nation’s top media regulator has taken several measures to accomplish what many have characterized as a near impossible task.

When Dafu Media (大富媒體), which is an affiliate of the Fubon Group, wanted to purchase the cable systems of multiple system operator Kbro Co two years ago, the commission approved the deal only after Dafu undertook to ensure 50 percent of its subscribers would be using digital cable service by 2015.

In addition, cable operators scheduled to apply for the renewal of their licenses in 2015 are required to show they plan to provide customers with digital service. Last year, the commission rejected applications from several cable operators to raise their monthly service fees on the grounds that they had made no progress in offering digital cable service.

Meanwhile, the commission has been encouraging cable operators to participate in an experiment, in which they lend households one or two set-top boxes, thereby allowing consumers to familiarize themselves with digital cable service.

The experiment will enable consumers to watch digital channels for no extra charge. The commission is hoping that a limited period of access to digital channels will encourage more consumers to switch from analog to digital service.

Prior to the Lunar New Year holiday, NCC spokesperson Chen Jeng-chang (陳正倉) said the commission was considering allowing cable operators to turn off analog signals once 60 percent of subscribers have switched to digital service. Previously, the commission had insisted that 80 percent of customers must be subscribed to digital cable services for analog service to be discontinued.

While recognizing the commission’s efforts, Weber Lai (賴祥蔚), head of National Taiwan University of the Arts’ Graduate School of Applied Media Arts, expressed serious doubts as to whether digital cable service would reach a penetration rate of 50 percent by 2015.

Several studies have already said that both cable operators and users need stronger incentives to switch to digital service, he said.

“Most users want to use the service before they decide to subscribe to it,” Lai said. “This shows that many of them do not have sufficient information on the benefits digital service will bring. They are unable to imagine how the new service will benefit them.”

Using his own experience as an example, Lai said he had yet to see the value of subscribing to the digital service.

“Surfing through the channels has become such a hassle. If I want to watch HBO and press channel No. 65, I have to wait for about a second for the program to start, but I always get impatient and press number 6 again, and then the system tells me: ‘Sorry, there is no channel 656,’ and I get to play this game every day,” Lai said.

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