There has been no noticeable impact on digital television equipment sales in the wake of the Federal Government’s announcement of new Datacasting services and the Digital Action Plan, according to television retailer Alex Encel.

He argues that there are so few incentives to persuade Australians to invest in digital technology that it will be decades, not years, before the Federal Government can switch off the analogue television signal and open up the spectrum to new uses and new media players. The date nominated by the government – between 2010 and 2012 – is “pure fantasy”, he says.

Encel, who is Managing Director of Loewe TV Australasia, has been arguing for some time that the Government should simply go out and buy a free digital set top box for every analogue television set in Australia, (estimated to be 16 million at present) then switch off the analogue signal and open up the freed-up spectrum.

If he is right, we could have dozens of new media companies operating broadcasting services in a matter of months, not years.

This, of course, would be a direct challenge to the business models of the existing media behemoths, who have resisted the introduction of new broadcasting technology at every opportunity.

The cost of the giveaway basic set top boxes would be, according to Encel’s estimates, about $150 million once volume discounts are taken into account. He compares this to the huge public cost of maintaining analogue transmission into the future – which he suggests might be as much as $3 billion. So far, he says, nobody has queried his figures.

So is Encel right? Could we, for a sensible amount of public expenditure, be entering the new era of media plenty right now, or very soon, without the need for cumbersome Digital Action Plans and the regulatory artifice of Datacasting? Could we have real media diversity, starting now?

Encel says he has been unable to get sensible responses from policy makers. Perhaps there is a reason for this. I don’t know enough to challenge Encel’s figures, but perhaps the Crikey Army can help. Comments, critiques, information and alternative scenarios please, to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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