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Deadline for TV to end analogue age

Top News | Sophie Hui Feb 12, 2019
Goodbye analogue TV - your days are numbered. November 30 next year will see you replaced in full by digital terrestrial broadcasting. By then, though, less than 180,000 households will be seeing you off. That's how many are currently turning you on, according to a government estimate. There will also be financial assistance from the Community Care Fund for those in need of help to switch to digital TV. The government postponed a switching off of analogue TV from the end of 2015 to the end of 2020 while setting it for review during 2017-2018. According to an official consultancy study, by late 2017 about 88 percent - more than 2.2 million households - had digital terrestrial television. The penetration rate had increased from about 80 percent in 2014. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah said yesterday that the majority of households will not be affected by the change as they have already switched to digital TV, while those still watching analogue TV have 21 months to prepare by getting a new TV or a set-top box. "This is in line with the global trend to have digital TV as the major broadcasting service," Yau said. "Doing so will not only improve the quality of reception but also allow us to vacate the precious spectrum." He added: "We intend to make use of 160 megahertz of spectrum vacated by analogue TV for use by mobile telecommunications services, which essentially would relieve existing congested indoor mobile hotspots such as MTR stations." Officials also said 20 megahertz of frequency spectrum will be used for outdoor mobile telecom services. For the 180,000 households still tuned to analogue TV, they will not able to access free broadcasts if they do not go digital before December next year. Officials believe about 160,000 analogue households are less well-off families or the elderly. That is why there will be an application to the Community Care Fund by the middle of this year to help eligible households replace their old television sets with new digital TVs or set-top boxes. Yau added that households who benefit from other help schemes like Comprehensive Social Security Assistance will not need to go through additional means testing. Currently, there are five TV channels with analogue services - TVB's Jade and Pearl channels, RTHK's 31A and 33A, and Hong Kong Open TV. Leung Ka-wing, head of broadcasting at RTHK, said the switch to full digital terrestrial broadcasting will not affect the production of programs nor increase production costs. All RTHK television programs are produced for digital TV, and its digital service will cover 99 percent of the SAR's population by April. Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, said the SAR is a few steps behind many places in switching to full digital terrestrial broadcasting. He believes the government made the announcement now as it wants to make use of the spectrum vacated by analogue TV for 5G mobile services. But Fong added that it needs the cooperation of MTR Corp to accelerate internet speeds as many mobile service operators say they do not have enough time to install antennas and base stations at MTR stations. "If the MTR installs the 5G base stations at their stations slowly, the problem will still exist," he said. Fong also believes the government will not need to commit substantial funds to assist households switching from analogue to digital as TV sets need not cost more than a few thousand dollars. But supporting those who will watch digital TV from a set-top box is another matter because they will also need to pay for broadband services monthly.

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