RealTime IT News

Digital D-Day

[Sydney, AUSTRALIA] The failure of digital television to capture the imagination of Australians yesterday is the result of poor government policy, according to a number of experts.

Communications expert Jock Given said the Federal Governments high-definition option for digital television denied Australians the real benefits of the new technology.

"Some of the benefits are not available from the start and we have been critical of some aspects of the way the government has gone about introducing digital TV," Given, of the Communications Law Centre (CLC), told ABC Radio.

Digital broadcasts began in state capitals yesterday but digital TV sets or set-top boxes to receive the digital signal are still unavailable.

Given expected to see further changes to digital TV policy to make extra benefits available.

"Australia has put more emphasis on high-definition TV than anywhere else in the world. A lot of people are very sceptical about the likely market for it," Given said.

Queensland Liberal Gary Hardgrave, Secretary of the Coalition's Communications Policy Committee, has also criticised the Federal Government, suggesting that the government had missed an opportunity, and instead had created a niche marketing policy with the rollout of digital TV.

"This could have been something that would have had the whole nation sitting up and looking forward to the 1st of January, from a technical point of view," he said. "But it's certainly not going to be that. It will be several years before most Australians will probably notice. It is not mass-media policy we are doing here. It is very much a niche marketing policy and I think in that regard it is not working the way it should."

Opposition Communications Spokesman Stephen Smith says the Governments approach was "botched policy and botched implementation."

Both Smith and Hardgrave said the unique platform that the Federal Government had selected would make it more difficult to obtain cheap sets, as they were not currently being manufactured.

"What we've actually done is something that no one else in the world has done," said Hardgrave. "And we are on our very own on this leading edge. We are asking for technology to be in people's homes at affordable prices, and yet it's not being mass-produced anywhere in the world. And so in that regard we've got quality, but we certainly haven't got quantity."

The Australian Government has taken what many consider to be a strong stance on digital television. However, the failure to adequately understand the full implications of the technology leaves consumers without the full range of services possible via the technology.

Digital TV's most successful launch in the past couple of years was in Britain, said Given, but it still had nothing like a majority of consumers racing to embrace it in the way colour television was adopted.

"Some would argue that consumers who jump into digital TV at any stage are not going to be getting terribly much more than with analogue," Given suggests.