Taipei, June 5 (CNA) The Consumers' Foundation urged the government Tuesday to offer free set-top boxes to people, particularly the economically disadvantaged, as part of a policy to complete the transition to fully digital TV broadcasting in Taiwan by June 30.
Because of limited government subsidies for the digital switchover, some economically disadvantaged families, including elderly people in rural areas, no longer have a working TV set since the analog signal in their areas has been switched off, said the foundation's chairman Chen Chih-yi.
The National Communications Commission (NCC) made two proposals in February for subsidizing the digital switchover -- one to give each household in the country a free set-top converter box at a total cost of NT$12.2 billion (US$407 million), and the other to offer the boxes only to low income households, at an estimated total cost of NT$260 million the foundation said.
The government chose the cheaper option, Chen said at a press conference titled "Why my television goes black!"
In its research on the government's digital TV policy, the foundation found that in the United States and some European countries, the businesses that benefited from digital TV broadcasting had provided subsidies for people to purchase set-top boxes or had even offered free TV service, he said.
For example, the British Broadcasting Corp., along with four other TV stations, set up a new company called DTV Services in 2002 to offer free access to 50 digital TV channels and 24 radio stations, Chen said.
In the U.S., each household was given a US$40 voucher for the purchase of set-top boxes, he noted.
He said the cost to consumers of the digital switchover should be borne by the country's five wireless TV broadcasting companies and TV set manufacturers, as suggested by Academia Sinica researcher Shih Jun-ji in a 2003 article.
The NCC started in May 7 to switch off the analog TV signal in Taiwan in four phases and is scheduled to complete the transition to digital broadcasting by June 30.
(By Yang Shu-min and Elizabeth Hsu)