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EDITIONS
Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Q & A: The BBC's digital plans

The BBC has successfully bid for the digital terrestrial television licences vacated by the collapsed ITV Digital.

It plans to offer 24 free-to-air channels available through a 100 set-top decoder.

Q: What channels can I get through the new system once I have my box?

A: The 24 channels will include the five terrestrial channels, plus S4C - the Welsh version of Channel 4 - and extra channels offered by ITV and the BBC. News junkies will be able to watch four rolling news and one continuous sport news channels.

There are also channels for children, movies, history, shopping, travel, and Parliament.

Q: Will there be any more free-to-air channels added?

A: Yes. There are plans for another entertainment channel and a music channel as well as more interactive services.

Q: How soon will the full service be available?

A: Current plans are that the system will be fully operational some time in the autumn, although an exact date has not been fixed.

Q: Can I keep my ITV Digital box and get the new service through it?

A: Yes, as now, all of the free-to-air channels can be picked up through the boxes.

Of the 1.2m ITV Digital subscribers, only 200,000 bought their boxes outright. The rest were given out with subscription and technically remain an asset of ITV Digital which could in theory be sold off by administrators Deloitte and Touche.

But because of the cost involved in getting the boxes back, viewers are likely to be able to keep them.

Q: Could I get digital channels like Sky sports and movies through my aerial?

A: No. Premium pay-TV channels will not be available free on the BBC system.

Unlike the other bids, there is no short-term possibility to "upgrade" to get pay channels.

In the distant future this sort of upgrade may be possible, but not now.

Q: Is the BBC making and selling set-top boxes?

A: No. But the BBC is co-operating with box manufacturers like Pace and will launch a massive marketing campaign for the network before its launch.

Q: Will a charge ever be levied on the service?

A: No. The service will remain free-to-air while controlled by the BBC for the duration of its 12-year licence.

A paid upgrade to receive other channels may be made available towards the end of the decade, around the time the government will be starting to think about switching off the analogue signal completely.

This might allow pay-TV channels through an aerial, but would be strictly optional.

Q: Will the signal and coverage be better than on ITV Digital?

A: Yes. Signal will no longer be interfered with by passing buses.

Picture quality will improve primarily because the number of channels is being reduced from ITV Digital's 36 to 24.

Transmitters are being upgraded and technical standards improved to further improve signal and improve coverage which was poor in some parts of the country previously.

However, some parts of the UK are still unable to receive DTT transmissions - potential viewers should check with their dealer.

Viewers in and around London can now see short test films being shown on the old ITV Digital frequences, which are part of the process of improving the technical quality of digital terrestrial TV.



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