600 a week tune in satellite TV amid digital switch

More than 20,000 satellite services activated out of 247,000

During the switch to digital-only television, applications for satellite TV smart card activations are being processed at a rate of up to 600 every week indicating the move away from analog is not only to terrestrial broadcasts, but also to satellite.

To help prevent people from being left without any signal during the switch to digital-only TV the federal government-funded Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service was established, which offers existing free-to-air (FTA) channels over satellite.

According to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), so far the new VAST service has about 21,000 viewing households across Australia.

A spokesperson for the department said applications for smart card activation continue to be processed at the rate of about 500 to 600 per week.

Last week Senator Stephen Conroy announced regional Victoria as the latest area to go digital-only, affecting some 455,000 households.

“In the lead up to the digital switch in Victoria today the rate of uptake remained steady,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson could not say how many households in regional Victoria are now using satellite as a result of the switch.

Regional Victoria is the largest switchover so far in the roll out. Late last year regional South Australia and Broken Hill in far-western NSW went digital-only and some 200 homes in that region opted for satellite TV services instead of digital.

The DBCDE has indicated the budget and capacity for VAST services could “potentially benefit up to 247,000” households across Australia.

If the current rate of 600 per week is sustained until the end of the digital TV switchover in December 2013, some 82,000 households will be using VAST, well below the government’s projections.

However, with people in the major population centres, the capital cities, not yet eligible to apply for VAST it is unclear whether loss of analog signals due to the switch to digital will result in a faster uptake of the satellite TV program.

Viewers in black spots can apply for VAST six months before the cut over date, which for Brisbane and Perth will be January 1, 2013 and for Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide is July 1, 2013.

For households in regional areas that rely on a analog signal from a “self-help tower” have another option in the Satellite Subsidy Scheme (SSS) if this signal is not going to be converted to digital.

According to the DBCDE, the SSS reduces the payment for installation to between $200 and $350, depending on the location.

VAST has been criticised for being restricted to one type of set-top box (STB). The STB, manufactured by Altech UEC, retails for around $280.

The smart card ships with the STB and must be activated before satellite TV can be accessed. Right now the required smart card cannot be used with another type of STB.

In December, some 500,000 households in regional Queensland will be switched to digital-only TV.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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