Analogue switch-off deadline <BR>thwarted by UK economic situation

LONDON - The deadline to switch off the analogue broadcasting signal is set to be delayed after the government abandoned a plan to fund the cost of connecting millions of homes to digital, because of the UK's current economic situation.

The government had wanted to switch off the analogue signal sometime between 2006 and 2010, but pledged that it would not do so until around 95% of the population had switched to digital services.

Before the general election in June, former culture secretary Chris Smith began to lay plans to use public money, which would later be reimbursed by the sale of the analogue spectrum, to convert around 30% of the population to digital.

The transfer would have begun in 2004, when the government estimated that 70% of the population would have already switched to digital. Digital uptake currently stands at around 40%.

However, the plan was thwarted by £1.7m in compensation payments to farmers affected by the foot-and-mouth outbreak, and the economic downturn finally ended the scheme.

The government is now facing a split between ministers over whether or not the deadline should be moved.

Culture secretary Tessa Jowell is said to believe that change can not be hurried. However, she is coming under pressure from the Department of Trade and Industry, which believes meeting the target will increase the UK's competitiveness.

It is also believed that emerging technological advances could dramatically transform the digital landscape, which could reduce the cost of converting those who refuse to switch over voluntarily.

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Claire Billings, recommends

Department of Media, Culture & Sport

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