200 take up satellite in next digital TV region

Community analog transmitter not being upgraded to digital

Some 200 homes across regional South Australia and Broken Hill (far west NSW) have opted for satellite TV services over the terrestrial broadcasts which will be switched to digital-only before Christmas.

On June 30 this year the Mildura-Sunraysia region in Victoria became the first digital-only area in the country and the regions of Mt Gambier, Riverland and Spencer Gulf in South Australia and Broken Hill will have analog switched off on December 15.

As part of the switch to digital-only television, the older analog broadcasts will be progressively phased out by the end of 2013, but people in regional areas have complained of poor digital signal reception compared to analog.

The federal government’s Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) will assist people unable to receive the new digital terrestrial signals by offering a satellite TV service for a once-off payment of $200.

A spokesperson for Senator Conroy’s department said more than 200 households in the towns of Melrose and Wilmington in the Spencer Gulf region are now receiving digital TV by satellite.

According to the DBCDE’s figures, this is up from 69 households in mid-September so demand for satellite is strong.

According to Wikipedia, Melrose has a population of 2100. Wilmington, however, has a population of just 220 as of the 2006 Census.

The Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service has been available to eligible households in regional South Australia and Broken Hill since September. Viewers in Regional SA and Broken Hill can check their eligibility at www.mysattv.com.au.

“[Those houses] have been helped to convert to VAST through the government’s Satellite Subsidy Scheme as their local community-operated analog TV transmitter is not being upgraded to digital,” the spokesperson said.

At this stage of the digital TV switchover it is unclear how many analog transmitters won’t be upgraded to digital, but the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will also look at enhanced terrestrial coverage in addition to satellite to fill any black spots.

In January the DBCDE committed $160 million over the four year transition period for the satellite broadcasting service, which it estimates could benefit as many as 247,000 households across Australia.

For a once-off payment of $200 per house, a government-contracted installer supplies and installs a high definition satellite set top box, satellite dish and cabling to receive digital TV by satellite.

The VAST provides the same number of digital channels as is available in the capital cities, including all the new digital-only channels. The new Network Ten channel, “Eleven”, will be available on VAST when it is launched in 2011.

“Viewers already connected to VAST have welcomed the greater choice of channels, as well as the opportunity to receive the local news services provided by regional commercial broadcasters in the Spencer Gulf licence area,” the spokesperson said.

Next after regional SA to go digital-only is regional Victoria which will be converted in May 2011.

Rodney Gedda is Editor of TechWorld Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is rodney_gedda@idg.com.au. Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter at @Techworld_AU.

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