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City missing out on digital service

Thursday, 26th March, 2009

The oft-promised 'digital television revolution' finally gets underway tonight, but not in Broken Hill. Australia's free-to-air digital broadcasters have banded together and formed Freeview, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at promoting digital television. On its website, Freeview says it "will give viewers more choice than ever before". The broadcasters behind Freeview have said they will offer 15 digital channels and an electronic program guide.

Tonight Channel Ten will launch 24-hour digital sports channel ONE HD, the first of the new channels, and the only one yet announced. ONE HD will screen a range of sport, including two live AFL matches a week. But Southern Cross GTS/BKN, the company that delivers Broken Hill's commercial television programming, has no plans to provide the new digital services. The Federal Government announced its timetable to switch off traditional analogue TV broadcasts in October last year. The Broken Hill signal is set to be switched off in the middle of next year.

Brian Bearman, General Manager of Southern Cross GTS/BKN, said yesterday that Broken Hill would not be getting the new channels. He said the company did not have the technical or financial capacity. Southern Cross secured a licence about five years ago to transmit Channel Ten to the region. Mr Bearman said they received it without competition as the costs to rivals would have been too prohibitive. Due to the cost involved in providing infrastructure back then to screen both Ten and Seven in analogue and digital form, Mr Bearman said the Government had given them a reprieve from participating in the current changes.

"It would be financially impossible to do this now," he said. "We would need Government assistance in order to do this. "If I can give Adelaide as an example, there they have one transmitter that services 1.5 million-odd people and they only have to make changes at that location. We have 19 transmitter sites." Mr Bearman said when the ABC and SBS provided extra channels they would reach Broken Hill as they were Government funded, but commercial channels were a different story. "We haven't let the idea go entirely, but this will not happen in the short term," he said.

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