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Culture Secretary Chris Smith talks to News Online

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The BBC's Torin Douglas
"A quarter of the population has already switched to digital television"
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Sheila McKechnie, of the Consumers Association
"Lots of people aren't that committed to television"
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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 13:48 GMT
Smith defends digital TV plans
Crystal Palace transmitter, south London
Analogue TV could close in 2006
Culture Secretary Chris Smith has said he does not agree with accusations that plans to switch off the analogue television signal within 10 years are "fatally flawed".

Mr Smith was responding to a report by the Consumers' Association, which has called for an end "the forced march to analogue switch-off".

He told BBC News Online that government research, suggesting about 15% of people would not want digital TV, differs with the report, which puts the figure at 32%.

But the association's director, Sheila McKechnie is telling a conference on Thursday the government's target to end the signal between 2006 and 2010 is unrealistic.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith: Watching digital TV "will become second nature"
The report also suggests that many people avoid digital TV for the same reason people choose it - the number of extra channels.

The association found 32% of viewers without digital TV, and 50% of retired people, said they would never get it.

While 48% of the 1,918 people questioned said they would only want to watch free-to-air channels once they switched to digital.

Mr Smith said: "Our own research is a bit more optimistic than theirs," adding that the government would take account of the "wishes and needs" of people who do not want digital TV.

He said that so far, more than 25% of households have already taken up digital TV, and in families with children, more than 50% have "made the switch".

We believe it's time to end the analogue switch-off

CA spokesman, Adam Scorer, Consumers' Association
"In due course I think it will become second nature to us," he added.

However he did say the report was useful in setting out the challenge ahead.

"There are going to be people who are not in the business of wanting vast numbers of extra channels and they do not want to pay for subscription television," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"But for them it does offer benefits; better quality, better pictures."

Although 26% of the population have digital TV now, most of those - 73% - have switched for extra channels, especially sport and films.

Switched off

But 66% of people who have not switched have not even considered getting digital TV.

Mr Smith added: "One of the things which does happen with new technology is that it starts off expensive but then the costs come tumbling down.

"We want to make sure the switch over to digital is going to be much more affordable.

"I would expect that to happen over the next four to five years." The survey shows many are confused about whether or not they will have to pay to receive the five main terrestrial channels after analogue transmissions are switched off.

CA spokesman Adam Scorer said: "The survey has found a resistance to digital TV that should compel the government to rethink its plans for delivering 'digital UK'.

"We believe it's time to end the analogue switch-off. The government needs a digital switch-over policy that allows consumers to switch to digital easily, affordably and because they want to."

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