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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 March 2007, 14:40 GMT
First digital TV switch date set
Digital TV mascot "Digit Al" in front of Whitehaven harbour
The UK should be fully converted to digital TV by 2012
The date has been set for the first stage of the UK's digital TV switchover to take place.

About 25,000 households in the Whitehaven area of western Cumbria will be the first to have the old analogue signal switched off, from 17 October.

BBC Two will be the first channel to go, with the remaining analogue channels switched off on 14 November.

All residents will need some form of digital TV by that date, with the whole of the UK to follow by the end of 2012.

Every TV set in the country must be connected to Freeview, satellite, cable or broadband TV by that date to keep working.

Whitehaven harbour
Whitehaven cannot currently receive the Freeview signal
New equipment, installation and support will be given to people over 75, those with significant disabilities and the blind.

The assistance will cost 40, or will be free for eligible people who are also on pension credit, job seeker's allowance or income support.

Letters are being sent to everyone in the area explaining the details of the switchover and what help is available.

The whole of the UK will follow the same process as the Whitehaven area.

How the digital switchover will happen in Whitehaven:

  • From early May, captions will appear on analogue channels warning viewers the TV set must be connected to digital.

  • In the early hours of October 17, BBC Two will stop broadcasting in analogue and the first group of Freeview digital channels - BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC News 24 and CBBC - will become available.

  • During this transitional stage, analogue ITV1 will move to button 2 on remote controls to make way for the first group of digital channels.

  • In the early hours of 14 November, the remaining analogue channels will be permanently switched off. Every home in the area will then be able to receive at least 18 Freeview channels, including ITV2, E4 and BBC Four, plus digital radio, via an aerial.

The switchover will then be carried out region by region, with the rest of the Borders the next to have its analogue signal switched off, beginning at the end of 2008.

Broadcasting minister Shaun Woodward said: "We've been fully engaged with preparing Whitehaven for a long time and it will - I underline that - be a success.

21% of UK households have no form of digital TV
26% of Borders homes not digital
27% of Whitehaven homes not digital
Source: Digital UK
"Nobody in Whitehaven will be left behind because it is critical everybody understands it is happening."

But 27% of households in the affected area - almost 7,000 homes - have yet to switch to digital.

Although Whitehaven is the first place to make the change, its digital take-up is lagging behind the rest of the country, where 21% of homes are analogue-only.

This is largely because Whitehaven cannot yet receive Freeview and so satellite has been the only option for residents.

UK digital switchover map
The digital switchover will be staggered over the next five years
Mr Woodward rejected the "doomsday scenario" of thousands of people rushing to buy Freeview boxes for all the sets in their homes at the same time.

"I think what you're going to see in the next few months is a massive take-up," he told the BBC News website. "But equally we're not complacent about it."

Digital UK employees would be "put into overdrive in the next six months", he added.

Age Concern, which has set up an information centre in Whitehaven, said more needed to be done for pensioners.

The charity's director general Gordon Lishman said: "We will continue to champion the need for additional support for all older people who need it, not just the over 75s, and for a range of technology to be made available through the scheme.

"Measures must also be put in place so that vulnerable people are not exploited by rogue traders during the switchover."

Alan Cleaver, deputy editor of the Whitehaven News, is urging Digital UK to help all those who may have trouble understanding the changes - not just pensioners.

"I think by 17 October there will be a small percentage, hopefully small, who will switch on their TV and think 'where's it gone?'" he said.

"So Digital UK has got to make sure the support network is there and picks up those people, but I think it's obvious, talking to people, that most are aware that they will have to do something."

How older people are being helped with the switch


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