Saturday, July 29, 2006

TV Switchover

We already knew that Cumbria would be the trial region for the switchover to Digital TV. Now we learn that Whitehaven and the surrounding villages - basically the northern half of Copeland - will be the first part of Cumbria to be affected.

There is an old joke that "nothing should ever be done for the first time." Even if it produces benefits in the long term, I am concerned that the authorities do not seem to have thought through or addressed some of the human cost which may come with this switchover, particularly in the area where it happens first.

It has been rumoured that one of the reasons Cumbria had been chosen to be the first area for digital switchover is that there are only 6 MPs in the county so it won't bring the government down if it all goes wrong.

I hope that the council and the TV authorities will work together to organise an effective publicity campaign, which needs to start soon, alerting everyone to the steps they need to take to ensure their television still works after the switchover. The campaign needs to cover all groups of television viewers but include a particular drive to contact those elderly people who may not realise what "digital TV" means or that it affects them. The campaign should also encourage people to start sorting things out now - if everyone waits until a few weeks before the switchover we will have chaos as reputable local suppliers cannot cope with the final rush of demand and those who leave it too late may have to choose between spending a few weeks with no TV or paying a fortune.

And even if people don't leave it to the last minute, anyone getting the necessary digital-capable receiver etc should either go to someone they know and trust or make sure they get at least two or three quotes. My information is that there is already a huge variation in the amount people are being charged. You can bet that as the switchover gets closer, people from all over the country will descend on Whitehaven offering to do the necessary conversion work, and some of them will charge much higher prices than others.

Recognising that Copeland is being used for the trial run, I hope the government will also put some money aside as a special fund to compensate any local residents or local businesses who lose out as a result of the teething problems which may occur as we experience the first digital switchover.

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