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Digital Satellite And Terrestrial Television

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1998

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2.58 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure the compatibility of decoder technology for digital satellite and terrestrial television.

My Lords, the design of the receivers of broadcasting services is a matter for the manufacturers and broadcasters operating on those platforms, subject to the relevant regulations and licence conditions which apply. The application of British Digital Broadcasting for digital terrestrial multiplex licences contained a number of commitments to deliver interoperability between digital terrestrial and satellite services. The licences granted to BDB last year require it to meet those commitments.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I recognise the complex nature of these issues, but does he accept, first, that the Government have a significant interest in ensuring that the analogue switch-off takes place as quickly as possible in the next millennium; and, secondly, that they have an interest in ensuring that the "box war" over digital TV which is likely to occur between BSkyB for the digital satellite providers and BDB for the digital terrestrial suppliers will not be damaging to the Government's aim? Will the Minister agree that this is a major issue and that the Government should ensure that there is interoperability between the two systems? Most particularly, in the light of the events of the past few days, will the Minister confirm that, if the Prime Minister has a telephone relationship with Mr. Rupert Murdoch which enables him to discuss the question of Italian TV, he could use that relationship to ensure that this problem is sorted out, and quickly?

My Lords, I am sure that the House will agree with me when I refuse to answer the noble Lord's fourth and last question. On the matter of analogue switch-off, of course we have an interest in the switch-off not taking place too late, but we must also have regard to those households with an analogue television who cannot afford to change to digital. We must bear that point in mind when we consider what decision to take. Of course the Government have an interest in interoperability, but so do the manufacturers and the broadcasters. It would be thoroughly undesirable for anybody in this business if there were to be a set-top "box war" of the kind which the noble Lord implied was likely. I do not think that it is likely because it is not in anybody's interests for that to happen.