Switchover fear as screening of experts hit by poor reception
WITH less than 12 months before Scotland begins the switchover to digital television, it has emerged that just one person in the country is officially registered to install the new technology.
About half of the estimated five million television sets in Scotland do not currently receive a digital signal through an aerial (Freeview), satellite, cable or broadband, and will therefore be useless when the analogue signal is turned off.
Fears that the switchover could be problematic were prompted by concerns about the shortage of registered installers and the fact that up to a third of viewers in some areas will only receive half of the 40 or so free-to-air channels even after switchover.
To help ease people's concerns about where to get help with the practicalities of going digital, the Government set up a scheme to ensure that installers were properly qualified and had undergone a criminal records check.
But figures released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport reveal that Scotland has only one registered installer, based in the Grampian television region. There are none in the rest of the country and only 66 in the UK as a whole: one in London, 13 in the Midlands, 15 in Wales and 36 in Yorkshire.
Mike Moore, the MP who obtained the figures, said: "What we want to avoid is a bunch of cowboys passing themselves off as installers and getting access to people's homes.
"There are trusted and reliable installers out there, but they seem to regard the Government's scheme as bureaucratic, with no obvious added benefit to themselves.
"They have their own customer base, but if you're somebody who does not know them then it's a real problem."
The MP - whose Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency is part of the Border Television area, the first complete UK region to go digital - said many of his constituents were angry that they were being forced to pay for a partial service.
"The issue that's produced the most angry reaction is that even after switchover people in rural areas will only be able to get half the number of stations that people in nearby towns will," said Moore. "That's short-changing people, and it's something that's going to become a big issue across Scotland as more and more people begin to realise they are not going to get the full range of programmes."
The Liberal Democrat MP said he was writing to Culture Secretary James Purnell, urging him to ensure that any difficulties were resolved.
DigitalUK, the group set up by the main broadcasters to implement the switchover, said there were "relatively few" registered installers because the scheme was still in its infancy. A spokesman advised people to check that an installer was a member of a recognised trade body if they were not a member of the Government scheme.
Across the UK as a whole, 10% of households will only receive half the full range of 40-50 Freeview channels after switchover, although in the Border TV area served by the Selkirk transmitter a third will receive this reduced service.
"We recognise the frustration of people that would like to receive extra Freeview channels, but they will still receive around 20 channels, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, and if they want to receive more channels they may be able to opt for satellite," said the spokesman.
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