Digital switchover takes place

 

Up to 100,000 households that have been getting their television through the analogue signal will have no television signal from this morning, according to the Department of Communications.

At 10am the analogue signal was switched off and viewers will be able to watch television only if they have upgraded their television or bought a new one capable of receiving digital signals.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte attended the switchover at the television centre in Donnybrook and described the move to a new transmission as a historic event.

“Public service broadcasting remains vital to the social, political and cultural life of the nation,” said Mr Rabbitte. “What we are doing here today ensures people will continue to have access to free-to-air television, providing a full range of services, with a strong national voice.”

The sectors identified as most vulnerable to losing their television signal because they have not made the switch are older people, people living in isolated rural areas, the poor and those living alone.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said that while the cost of purchasing a digital television or set-top box has not emerged as a significant issue, it is expecting pleas for help with the cost from today.

The Saorview digital service is free once the set-top box has been bought and installed but the cost, at between €50 and €200, “is quite prohibitive if you are relying on the State pension”, said Eamonn Timmins, advocacy officer with Age Action Ireland.

“It may seem like a small issue but to an older person living alone television is a very important outlet. It’s company and contact with the outside world.”

A spokesman for the Department of Communications said it was estimated in October last year that 250,000 households would have to switch from analogue to digital. By the end of September about 100,000 still had not. “That was not an unexpected figure and was in line with international experience,” he said.

Fianna Fáil spokesman for communications Michael Moynihan said he was hugely concerned that elderly people, particularly those living alone, would be over-represented in the 100,000. “I am calling on people to be vigilant and to do what they can to make sure elderly friends and neighbours are not left out.”

The department has funded two organisations – the Wheel and Irish Rural Link – to lead a community outreach programme aimed at making sure as many people as possible were informed and enabled to switch their televisions by this morning.

Dónall Geoghegan, programme director with the Wheel, said 26 “champions” had been recruited, one in each county, to co-ordinate information distribution and encourage people to make sure neighbours and loved ones had made the switch.

Séamus Boland, chief executive of Irish Rural Link, said most people contacted had been able to make the switch.

“Some people thought it would sort of sort itself out and thought they didn’t have to do anything. Others have thought they couldn’t make the switch until after the 24th of October. Some have the set-top boxes there but not installed them.”

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