May 17, 2011

Five reasons why the govt should be wary about set-top boxes

Is the federal government's $308 million plan to provide pensioners with digital set-top boxes really a vital service for vulnerable Australians?

Tom Cowie

Crikey journalist

It’s already been dubbed “pink batts for pensioners” — the latest incarnation, the opposition say, in Labor’s “conga line of waste” that includes roof insulation, school halls and solar panels.

So is the federal government’s $308 million plan to provide pensioners with digital set-top boxes really a vital service for vulnerable Australians or, as Tony Abbott dubs it, are they simply building the entertainment revolution? And what’s going to stop the shonks, sheisters and scammers from ripping the government off? Crikey spoke to one Melbourne-based installer to draw up five reasons why the government should be wary of set-top boxes.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

28 thoughts on “Five reasons why the govt should be wary about set-top boxes

  1. Mark from Melbourne

    ” and possibly deaths of untrained workers ”

    I didn’t realise plugging in a set top box could be so dangerous. Was Richards thinking of the risk of crazed pensioners attacking installers or just re-cycling the PR he used for the pink batts story.

  2. paddy

    There’s probably the basis for a bloody good article here Tom.
    But this isn’t it.
    I’ve just re-read this about 5 times and am still none the wiser as to what point you are trying to get across.
    (1) It’s too expensive. Followed by…
    (2) The boxes are too cheap
    (3) They won’t work on old TVs. Followed by an explanation of a workaround
    (4) Teaching old people takes time. Followed by a suggestion to “turn off the analogue signal and they won’t get confused?” (They also won’t get TV reception.)
    (5) Dodgy installers…….. I’m more confused about who can install STBs now, than I was when I started reading this piece.
    I’m sure “Greg” was a mine of useful info, but it’s *your* job to bash his thoughts and knowledge into something approaching coherent form. 3/10

    P.S. Sorry for the intemperate rant, but I’ve just discovered that I’ll be up for $600- $800 to get a satellite HD box installed due to living in a rural digital black hole.

  3. Angrybudgie

    Sorry, but just turning off the analogue will not stop them getting confused. My mother just kept saying that her t.v. was broken and would I come and have a look at it. Had this repeated several times until finally tossing out the set top and buying a new t.v. She didn’t think she needed that as the old one was only about 15 years old……however, NOW she isn’t confused… so perhaps Gerry is right, buy them digital t.v. sets for the same price..

  4. green-orange

    This scheme has already been operating for 18 months in Sunraysia and rural SA without any problems or hissy fits. Yet again a case of “if a tree falls in the forest, and the forest isn’t in Sydney, who cares ?”

    “Greg says the Hills TechLife set-top boxes currently being handed out under the regional Victoria digital roll out are “notoriously unreliable” and often only have a life of 12 months.”

    “Greg” is wrong. Installers can install any set top box. Hills boxes have a 12 month warranty and last longer than that.

    “In a report in the Sydney Morning Herald last year, it was found that most new set-top boxes don’t have RF modulators — that is, the “antenna” connection, and if they do it would often only come with a standard definition device  — meaning no ABC News 24, One HD, 7mate, GEM and SBS HD.”

    Bush STBs for one have RF output. They are the most common used in SA. And of course its the cheaper SD boxes which have fewer outputs.

    “but Greg says the easiest way to teach older people how to use them is to simply disconnect the analogue feed totally so they “can’t get confused”.”

    Greg himself is “rather confused”. Once a STB is installed ANALOGUE TV IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE. The aerial is now connected only to the digital STB.

    “Australia has already said the lure of government cash could lead to shoddy installations by poorly trained technicians, something Greg agrees with.”

    The installation can be done by a child. There is no risk of danger at all.

  5. Scott Grant

    I would prefer it if a Crikey journalist would acknowledge the contributions of his colleagues in disproving a lot of the opposition and Murdoch nonsense about the Labor government’s fiscal stimulus package, including (short hand) Pink Batts and School Halls.

    One of the problems with propaganda is that it becomes embedded in people’s sub-conscious through simple repetition, no matter how untrue. Quoting from the opposition, without any attempt at discussing the merits of their claims, is bad enough. Repeating the word “fiasco” in regard to Pink Batts demonstrates that Tom Cowie does not read Crikey, or is unable to absorb the information provided by colleagues like Possum Comitatus.

    There are some valid points in the article (eg dodgy installers), but I don’t think it was balanced. As for that laughable quote from the DT, why bother? They can hardly be considered a credible source for anything.

  6. DPC

    How about a ‘set top box’ allowance delivered as part of a pension payment via Centrelink, and the option of refunding an electrician’s bill for up to two hours of their time should one be required for installation (also delivered via Centrelink, perhaps a form could be mailed out to every pensioner’s household with a reply paid envelope to submit the receipt included)?

    I’d wager that less than 10% of pensioners would require the help of an electrician as most would either be able to do it by themselves, or have family / carers to assist. As Green-Orange said installing a STB is not rocket science. Neither is reading an instruction manual to learn how to use one.

    Hence an opportunity for our more skilled workers to earn a bit of extra cash (instead of generating another industry of lowly skilled employees), likely lots of money saved, no need to set up a dedicated helpline, and pensioners retain the freedom to purchase the brand of STB they want (and that fits within the STB allowance).

  7. Meski

    Since when do we need installers (professional or dodgy) to install everyday appliances? Next thing, people will be claiming they have trouble setting the clock on their VCR’s. The most likely issue you’ll encounter is needing a new antenna – what causes a watchable but somewhat snowy analog picture will be painfully unwatchable in digital. The government would be better off giving out antennae than STB’s, if necessary.

  8. paddy

    DPC The problem with the current meme of “Set Top Box”, is that it’s not really the issue.
    The real issue is the changeover from analogue to digital transmission.

    For the vast majority of users, it is a quite trivial process of a buying a set top box and plugging it in. (or getting a free one from the Govt if you’re a pensioner)
    Hence the Gerry Harvey B.S. about “I could do it cheaper etc etc.

    However, the major costs, and pitfalls, are on the margins. Where the digital signal is weak (requiring a new antenna) or non-existent, requiring a satellite dish and a whole range of paperwork, a smartcard, a satellite STB and a stat dec from the installer, stating that the customer cannot get the terrestrial signal.
    Trust me, the “satellite” part is *very* expensive. 🙁

    Then again, I still can’t quite believe the Govt is so bad at selling what should be a fairly good news story for most people. More channels, better reception etc.

  9. my say

    what about the blind, ( 1) the incapacitated 2, the needy, 3 and the pensioners. 4
    and just dam well doing something for the less fortunate. 5

    these are the five reasons we should not give a toss what the media say.

  10. freecountry

    The concerns about shonky installations and worker safety relate to the fact that some customers will need an aerial installed. Aerials usually go on roofs and if even one installer breaks his neck under this program–even if the accident rate is one tenth of the industry average–it will not be a good look for the government.

    My main concern with this has not been mentioned here. Hasn’t the government learned its lesson about unnecessary central planning yet? Every town in Australia has an electrical shop which can, for a price, arrange the sale and installation of set-top-boxes for pensioners and provide backup service. Why are the existing providers being sidelined yet again?

    Why did the building stimulus have to be for school halls, for which in most cases no requirement had previously been identified? Meanwhile around the country, thousands of people already had approved plans to build or extend their houses which were only awaiting the necessary finance. Instead of the brilliant masterpiece of planning and orchestrating the BER, we could have simply had a tax concession for home building and sat back to watch things whir into action. Now we have a housing deficiency which was identified well before the GFC, and has gotten to crisis levels.

    Similarly, many schools must have had overdue improvements which were planned but still awaiting funding sing-off. The same with prisons and many other public buildings. For that matter, every council in Australia probably has millions of dollars worth of public maintenance or upgrades just waiting for funding, and the states probably have hundreds of millions worth. What would have been wrong with just using the stimulus money to bring forward a whole lot of public works that were ready to go and had to be done sooner or later anyway?

    Why does the federal government have to be such a control freak? Haven’t they learned yet that they’re not the only ones who know how to do anything?

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details