TAIWAN: Cabinet launches move to digital TV

Government reveals plan to ease consumers into digital broadcasting with identification tags on new TV sets

Taipei Times
Thursday, December 22, 2005

By Jessie Ho

Starting next month, all televisions measuring 29 inches (73.6cm) or more will have to bear an identification tag signifying whether the set contains an embedded digital TV tuner.

The Cabinet introduced the tag on Tuesday as the first step in moving toward the digital broadcasting era.

The government plans to replace analog broadcasting with a digital system by 2008. Analog signals are to be completely phased out by 2010. To reach this goal, all TV sets measuring 29 inches or more sold in Taiwan from next month must be equipped with built-in digital TV tuners.

The rule will apply to TVs measuring between 21 and 29 inches in 2007, and to sets of all sizes in 2008, the Cabinet said in a statement.

TV manufacturers and importers that fail to meet the requirements can be fined from NT$250,000 to NT$2.5 million (US$7,500 to US$75,000), said Wang Cheng-hui, deputy director of the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Companies that avoid official examinations to ensure compliance can be fined from NT$200,000 to NT$2 million, Wang added.

Although consumers can choose from a wide array of TVs or monitors, such as high-definition TVs and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), only sets equipped with digital TV tuners will be able to receive digital broadcasts in future, said Wang Ting-an, executive secretary of the Science and Technology Advisory Group under the Executive Yuan.

The identification tag will give a clear indication of whether a certain product will be compatible with digital broadcasts, Wang said.

Regarding concerns that the new measure will make millions of analog TV sets obsolete, Wang Ting-an said that consumers with analog televisions will be able to watch digital broadcasts after installing a digital-to-analog set-top box.

The government plans to gradually recall broadcast frequencies for analog signals, starting from 2008 in Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, the east of the country in 2009, and the west in 2010, he said.

It is estimated that more than 6 million households will replace their cathode-ray-tube TVs or buy set-top boxes during the next three years, he added.

To bridge the digital divide, the Ministry of the Interior will budget NT$300 million to subsidize lower and middle-income families to buy set-top boxes, Wang Ting-an said.

While the hardware to facilitate digital broadcasting is in place, the software aspect is still lagging behind, an insider in the digital broadcasting sector said.

"The government is not coming up with incentives for digital content providers," said a public official of China Network Systems Co who asked not to be named.

Despite having promoted its digital broadcasting service for years, China Network Systems has only managed to secure around 40,000 subscribers, due mainly to the scarcity of programs that are not available on cable channels, he said.

In the absence of incentives, the nation's digital broadcasting operators, including China Network Systems, Eastern Multimedia Co and Taiwan Broadband, can only lure subscribers by developing value-added services such as cable telephony and on-demand shopping, he said.

Expecting business to boom as a result of the move to digital broadcasting, Macquarie Media Group, Australia's biggest commercial radio operator, tapped into the market by acquiring Taiwan Broadband Communications on Tuesday.