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Business (as of 1:18 AM)

NTC gives TV stations 9 years to convert to digital tech

BY MARY ANN LL. REYES

The Philippine Star

The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) will be giving television broadcast companies nine years, or until Dec. 31, 2015, to fully convert from analog to digital technology, in line with the worldwide shift towards the use of digital terrestrial television (DTT) in broadcasting.

However, the transition period may shorten or lengthen depending on prevailing market, economic and other conditions, according to the regulatory agency. After the agreed date, all analog TV frequencies will be recalled by the NTC and put to other use.

The NTC is currently preparing a set of rules that will govern DTT service. According to the commission, current economic conditions and considerations will, in all likelihood, limit the near-term appeal of DTT to the public.

"While network operators may be willing to invest in the technology, the present cost of consumer-end equipment is somewhat too prohibitive for majority of Philippine households. Thus, analog TV broadcast services should remain operational until a mandated date for the complete transition to digital and the cessation/termination of all analog broadcasts," the NTC said.

A set-top box which will have to be installed by a household per television used costs around $20 (P1,000). ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. plans to initially distribute for free 400,000 set-top boxes in pilot DTT areas.

The NTC rules, among other things, will require that those who intend to provide national DTT service should be holders of a nationwide congressional broadcast franchise. For existing analog TV operators, they must be in actual operation of at least 15 TV stations nationwide in at least 10 regions with a minimum paid-up capital of P1 billion.

For applicants with 15 operational TV stations or in actual operation in less than 10 regions in the country, they must have a minimum paid-up capital of P1.2 billion. New applications with no existing networks must have a minimum paid-up capitalization of P1.5 billion.

ABS-CBN earlier announced that it plans to spend an initial P500 million for a partial migration from analog to digital TV technology sometime middle of next year and is currently test broadcasting between now and December its DTT service, which aside from solving the signal problem in some areas in the country, will also add around 14 to 15 channels of free TV (in addition to Channel 2 and 23). A complete transition to DTT will cost billions of pesos.

DTT is a telecommunication system for broadcasting and receiving moving pictures and sound by means of digital signals in contrast to analog signals used in the current traditional TV technology. It uses digital modulation data, which is digitally compressed and requires decoding by a standard receiver with a set-top box.

Digital television has several advantages over traditional TV, the most significant being the use of a smaller channel bandwidth. This frees up space for more digital channels, other non-TV services such as pay-multimedia services and the generation of revenue from the sales of frequency spectrum taken by analog TV. There are also special services such as multicasting (more than one program on the same channel), electronic program guides and interactivity. DTT often has a superior image, audio quality and better reception than analog.

Because the migration to DTT will only be partial, ABS-CBN president Eugenio Lopez III said they will use both analog and digital in the meantime but foresees in the future a complete migration.

In the US, a complete migration to DTT has been mandated by February 2009 and the spectrum used for analog broadcast will be reclaimed by government and put to other uses.

It was learned that Associated Broadcasting Corp. (ABC-5), owned by businessman Antonio Cojuangco, has also applied with the NTC to conduct DTT test broadcast.

According to the NTC, the introduction of digital technology in the broadcasting service would ensure the competitiveness of the broadcast industry and afford them the opportunity to provide enhanced services to better serve the viewing public.

The draft NTC rules define DTT as an implementation of the digital technology in the television service intended to provide a greater number of channels and/or better quality of picture and sound through a conventional aerial antenna instead of a satellite or cable connection.

A DTT service provider shall have the option to adopt either high definition TV format or standard definition TV multiprogram format, or both, for its digital TV service. The standard to be adopted is the European digital video broadcasting - terrestrial (DVB-T) standard.

The rules also provide that a duly authorized DTT service provider with an existing authorization to provide analog TV service must carry its current analog TV program free-to-air over its DTT service.

Duly authorized DTT service providers intending to offer pay-per-view or conditional access programs will be required to seek authorization from the NTC. The provisioning of enhanced or value-added services over the DTT service may be allowed, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations, the NTC said.

Among those who may apply for authorizations to provide DTT services are existing analog TV operators; duly enfranchised entities with no existing authorizations to operate a TV service; entities with pending petitions for the issuance of authorizations to provide DTT service; and entities with pending petitions for the issuance of authorizations to provide analog TV service desiring to amend their respective petitions into petitions for the issuance of authorizations to provide DTT service.

Those intending to provide local instead of national DTT service must be holders of at least a local congressional broadcast franchise, and must have a minimum paid-up capitalization of P60 million per DTT station, and must prove that it has the technical capability to install, operate and maintain the proposed DTT network.

All duly qualified DTT service providers shall surrender their respective analog frequencies upon the termination of analog TV broadcast transmissions by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2015.

The draft rules likewise provide that NTC shall continue to receive applications for new analog TV broadcast stations up to Dec. 31, 2008 but no approval or authorization shall be granted beyond Dec. 31, 2010.

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