Saturday 10th October, 2015 Australia/Sydney

Australian Conservative

ALP’s digital TV plan will turn off local content for thousands in rural areas

The Federal Government’s plans for the closure of the analog television network will mean the death of local television content for thousands of Australians living in rural areas, the leader of The Nationals, Warren Truss, said today.

Mr Truss said that Labor’s plan to convert to digital only 100 of the existing network of at least 600 “self-help” television transmitters will leave thousands of people living in country communities with blank screens when analog transmissions close.

“Labor is offering these people a new satellite service – one for Western Australia, one for Queensland and the Northern Territory, and one for the rest of Australia,” Mr Truss said.

“These new services will transmit regional news broadcasts in rotation – so some people in country areas will have to get used to watching their news service late at night or make a choice between local news and their favourite program being broadcast during their news slot.

“And what about local community service announcements, local advertisements, and special local programs? In addition, Labor is only prepared to pay $300 towards the estimated cost of more than $600 to fit satellite dishes to affected households.”

Mr Truss said that once again the Rudd Labor Government is treating country Australians as second class citizens.

“Cabinet ministers would never be game to tell the capital city electorates that in future they will have to watch another city’s news bulletin and rely on a satellite bulletin for local news, weather, sporting and community information.”

Mr Truss said that the Government wants to close the analog network so that it can sell off the spectrum for other services. The Government expects to make billions of dollars from the sale of the spectrum, but is not prepared to do what is necessary to ensure that country viewers are not disadvantaged.

“Labor is spending $66 million on advertising the conversion to digital. That amount of money alone would be enough to convert another 400 ‘self-help’ transmitters to digital.

“Most of the ‘self-help’ blackspot transmitters were funded by the previous Coalition government and are now maintained and managed by local Councils or community organisations. They were provided in areas which were uneconomic for the television channels to service, but which were receiving no useable television signals.

“The Government’s conversion from analog to digital is showing all the signs of being another Labor telecommunications debacle – like the analog phone turn-off and Labor’s high speed broadband fiasco.”

The Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, has admitted he has no idea how many Australians will lose their television signal following the conversion to digital. He said “when they flick the switch it will become apparent because you will have a blank screen”.

“This is an appallingly arrogant response from the Minister. In the last Budget, the Federal Labor Government cut funding for a program to test for digital TV blackspots and it seems Senator Conroy does not even care which areas will be without reception.”

Mr Truss said that while regional viewers have often been the last to receive new digital free-to-air channels, the Federal Government has decided that analog television will switch off first in regional areas with the cities receiving analog transmissions into 2013.

“This must be the first time a Labor Government has ever given something to country areas before the cities,” Mr Truss commented.

“Even in urban areas, many television viewers are complaining that their digital signals seem to be lower strength and are too regularly interrupted.

“Labor’s analog shut-down program should guarantee that no Australian, particularly those living in regional and remote areas will be worse off. Nor should Labor expect battling country communities to pick up the tab for their multi-billion dollar analog sell-off windfall,” Mr Truss said.

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