3 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
     
Minister Radically Alters Digital TV Plans
24 Feb 2000 :
In a major u-turn of national digital TV policy, RTÉ will not be an equity holder in the new company providing the transmission of digital terrestrial television. Instead, it will now be forced to sell its transmission network to the private sector.

According to the original Broadcasting Bill which was published last May, RTÉ were to have retained a minority stake of up to 40 per cent in the company (tentatively called Digico) in return for giving it its transmission network. This will not now be the case - the spheres of programming and transmission will be completely separate. The move by Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands Síle de Valera will drastically alter the shape of the impending digital broadcasting landscape.

The move follows a disagreement between RTÉ and Minister de Valera over the value of the national broadcaster's transmission network. The dispute was holding up the passage of the Broadcasting Bill through the Dáil. A special Project Group that includes representatives from different Government departments, RTÉ and consultants from AIB put a value of £30 - £40 million on the transmission network. RTÉ felt that this estimation was too low in light of the sale of Cablelink.

The chosen method of delivery in Ireland is digital terrestrial television (DTT), which will provide for six multiplexes, leading to an availability of 30 to 50 television channels. Each multiplex will carry about five channels. Originally, RTÉ was to have sole rights to the capacity of one of the multiplexes and TV3 and TnaG would share the second. All six will be now be offered commercially, with the various broadcasters, including RTÉ, renting space on the multiplexes from private network providers.

Originally, digital terrestrial television was to be launched by September of this year. Commenting recently, Chairman of the RTÉ Authority, Farrell Corcoran said the services were not likely to be rolled out until early next year. The Minister's drastic changes to the proposed Bill will now mean that Ireland is not likely to have national digital terrestrial television until late next year. NTL/Cablelink are expected to launch their own digital cable television service - which will have the capacity to deliver up to 500 channels - in the middle of this year. The company currently provides a cable TV and radio service to 320,000 customers in Dublin and 30,000 in Galway and Waterford.

The new proposals are expected to go before the Government early in March, and will mean significant amendments to the Broadcasting Bill when it is passed after Committee Stage.

- Anthony Quinn



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