Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Questions (402, 403)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

416 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider providing financial assistance to people who are in SAORVIEW black spots and will incur the added costs of installing SAORVIEW satellite; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35052/12]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

420 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if all dwellings in County Donegal will be able to avail of SAORVIEW; the measures being put in place to ensure that all areas of County Donegal will be able to secure connection; if he will provide a list of regions that are having difficulty securing coverage in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35268/12]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 416 and 420 together.

I am very much aware of the challenges digital switchover brings, in particular for households that are reliant on the existing free to air analogue TV network. The necessary assistance and support for everyone but in particular for those households who need to make the switch to digital is being provided through a substantial national information campaign. In addition there is a community outreach programme aimed at providing local assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in society. As I have stated in reply to previous questions, I do not propose to introduce grant schemes for this purpose.

The Outreach programme is managed by the Wheel and has been working to address the particular information and assistance needs of vulnerable households as they prepare to go digital. The aim of the Outreach Programme is to ensure that all vulnerable households are made aware of the switchover and that no TV viewers are left without a TV service once analogue TV switches off on 24 October. Local help is available through local Champions and information on these champions is available from the Departments dedicated website www.goingdigital.ie.

Experience from other European countries indicates that the cost of set top boxes and other digital receivers reduces as the date for digital switchover approaches, and as competition increases in the market. There is clear evidence that this is now happening in Ireland with affordable set top boxes on the market, as well as a wide range of suitable digital televisions. A small SAORVIEW TV costs approximately €120 and SAORVIEW set top boxes are now retailing from €60 or less. SAORSAT set top boxes are now available from around €90.

RTÉ through its subsidiary company RTÉNL has built, owns and controls the SAORVIEW TV network and is responsible for the roll-out, coverage and operation of that network. This is in accordance with Part 8 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which provides that the development of the RTÉ network is an operational matter for RTÉ and, therefore, not one in which I, as Minister, have a function. Specifically, the Act requires RTÉ to provide digital coverage to the same extent as analogue coverage i.e. 98% population coverage. SAORVIEW will actually reach in excess of 98% population coverage so by itself exceeds RTÉ's legislative obligations for a national digital TV network to replace the analogue TV network which is switching off on 24 October.

The development and provision of the SAORSAT satellite platform was undertaken by RTÉ on its own initiative and is not a matter in which I have a function. RTÉ has introduced SAORSAT to provide a free to air TV service to the circa 2% of the population who cannot receive SAORVIEW. With the launch of SAORSAT, Ireland has 100% coverage of RTÉ and TG4 for the first time in the history of the State and everyone can chose to migrate to a free to air Digital TV service either through SAORVIEW or SAORSAT. I commend RTÉ for this initiative.

Ireland is not the only country to have introduced a national TV network on both a terrestrial and satellite platform. Many countries including the UK have developed their digital networks on both the traditional terrestrial platform and also over satellite. The reason for this is simple. It is technically, practically and financially impossible to provide 100% coverage using a terrestrial TV platform. On 21st June I hosted a special digital switchover briefing session to which all Oireachtas members were invited. At this meeting SAORVIEW and RTÉNL joined us and delivered clear and concise information to those who attended in relation to the monies spent by RTÉNL in rolling out SAORVIEW and SAORSAT, coverage issues and the costs for TV households. During this meeting they also announced their intention to rollout some additional transmitter sites at Carlingford, Dingle and Ennistymon; Glenties and Clonmany in Donegal, areas of West Cork such as Leap, Bandon, Timoleague, Rosscarbery, Drimoleague, and Mount Gabriel, Kilmacthomas in Waterford and Ballina, County Tipperary. RTÉ expects that the new sites will be on air in early October. Information on these sites is available from SAORVIEW and RTÉNL.