Page last updated at 17:20 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The pains of switching to digital

By Susannah Streeter
Business reporter, BBC News

Digital switch-over in Scotland

On Thursday morning, 52,000 households in the Scottish Borders will wake up to the dawn of the new digital era.

Switchover was successfully trialled in the town of Whitehaven in Cumbria last year, but the big roll out starts with the Border TV region. Analogue TV signals will be turned off from the Selkirk group of transmitters and replaced with a stronger digital signal.

BBC Two will be turned off first, and the rest of the analogue channels will cease to broadcast on 20 November. The rest of the Border TV region will follow in June 2009 and switchover will continue in phases across the UK until the end of 2012.

By then switchover will have cost the industry more than 1bn.

Digital UK, the non-profit organisation set up by the big broadcasters to implement the switchover, says it is confident that viewers in the Border TV area are prepared.

The big switchover moment

They have been running a intensive awareness campaign over the last 6 months across the region. Through the 'switchover help scheme', pensioners over 75 and people with disabilities can receive financial and practical assistance.

But Consumer Focus Scotland says it still believes some people will struggle to pay for the cost of switchover.

'So many buttons'

There are three main options to get digital TV in the borders area: by converting an existing TV with a digital set top box, paying for satellite TV to be installed or by purchasing a new digital TV.

However, existing analogue recording equipment will only be able to record the channel being watched and some people may also need to upgrade their aerials.

Isabelle Taylor from Peebles is looking forward to watching more channels but is finding the new technology quite hard to understand. She has had to convert all three sets in her home.

Isabelle Taylor (BBC)
The switchover can be confusing as well as costly

"Switchover is the talk of the coffee mornings," she says. "It is confusing particularly for older people like myself. There are so many buttons to use to turn it on.

"I am looking forward to watching more programmes, hopefully they will be better than what's on at the moment."

Consumer Focus Scotland also claims that switchover is unfair because it is being implemented with a two tier service.

Viewers whose aerials get a signal from a relay transmitter won't be able to receive the full range of commercial digital channels available in other areas. Trisha McAuley, the group's head of services and advocacy, wants the government to invest in transmitter upgrades.

She said: "Television is a lifeline for many people and it's not fair that just because they live in a more isolated area they will receive a more limited service.''

We just don't know yet how well it will work
Brian Edward, Peebles TV Services

John Askew, regional manager of Digital UK, believes its unlikely the relays will be upgraded immediately.

"Unfortunately it's just not commercially viable for the commercial broadcaster to invest in more equipment in the relay transmitters," he said. "However, many of the people I speak to in the Border TV area are quite happy with the number of channels they will receive. It's definitely progress on what they could watch before."

In the Peebles area switchover will be the first time that Freeview has been able to be tested in homes as there was no digital signal available in the town before. Brian Edward, the owner of Peebles TV Services, is predicting teething problems.

He said: "I have engineers on standby to come down from Edinburgh to sort out the problems. We just don't know yet how well it will work.''

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