Editorial: PM should be wary of the digitally disenfranchised

The Cumbrian coastal town of Whitehaven became the unlikely precursor of Britain's digital future last week.

No doubt eyes will be fixed on Whitehaven's residents for signs of how well (or how badly) the country as a whole comes to terms with the great analogue TV switch-off over the next five years. Already there are signs of the kinds of glitches likely to emerge as the switchover is replicated nationwide.

A Whitehaven guesthouse owner complained about having to fork out £1,000 to convert his premises to digital. "It's a financial burden that has been put upon us without any consultation whatsoever," he moans.

And despite a long-running PR campaign, an estimated 8 per cent of the town's 25,000 households have not switched to digital TV. It doesn't sound many. But transfer that to the national stage, and it equates to around 900,000 people. And there is the problem. Many will baulk at the cost of going digital. Even more will drag their heels rather than be frogmarched by the Government into the digital era.

Digit Al, the robot fronting the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO ads intended to raise awareness of the switchover, will have a lot of persuading to do. Not least because going digital will not solve all the reception problems. Parts of Wales, the Scottish Highlands and the West Country still won't be able to receive the full range of Freeview channels.

Meanwhile, there is still considerable cynicism about what many believe is the real reason for the Government's enthusiasm for digital - the hundreds of millions of pounds that will flow into the Treasury when Ofcom auctions off the analogue spectrum. David Elstein, the former chief executive of five, says: "If you can dragoon millions of people into spending on new equipment, good luck to you, but there will be a huge amount of political protest."

Gordon Brown should take note. Disenchanted and disenfranchised viewers can quickly become angry voters.

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