SINGAPORE - The Government is to roll out an assistance scheme for low-income families to ensure they will keep getting free-to-air TV channels when the nation switches to digital broadcasting by 2020.
The Government will subsidise the equipment used to plug into existing TV sets to receive the digital signals.
Announcing the move on Tuesday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "We want to have low-income households migrate without having them to spend a lot of money. We hope to give them assistance through the set-top box and antenna, and funding for installation."
He estimated that about 160,000 to 170,000 households will benefit from the scheme. Details will be announced later.
"By and large, low-income families will be assisted - almost 100 per cent," he said, speaking to the media during a visit to national broadcaster MediaCorp's Bukit Batok transmission centre.
Based on the retail price of a digital set-top box and antenna - $130 combined - some $22 million could be spent under the scheme.
Digital transmissions allow broadcasters to send more signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive higher quality images and sound. Other benefits include the ability to toggle the display of subtitles and multiple language options included with programmes.
Digital transmissions also free up space on broadcast frequencies for other uses such as delivering Internet data to smartphones.
In December last year, MediaCorp converted all its seven free-to-air TV channels from analogue to digital format. It is also continuing to broadcast using the analogue format as well.
At the same time, it has started delivering Channel 8, Suria and Vasantham in high definition (HD) format, along with English-language Channel 5. This format is possible only with digital TV.
Channel U, Channel NewsAsia and okto will go HD in 2016.
To tune in to digital TV, viewers need to buy and connect a digital set-top box and an indoor antenna to their existing TV sets, or subscribe to pay-TV before 2020. This is when analogue TV signals will be switched off.
If they have recently bought a new TV with a built-in digital tuner, they just need to buy an indoor antenna.
Pay-TV subscribers to SingTel and StarHub, whose platforms are already digital, need not do anything to prepare for the switch to digital broadcasting. Pay-TV subscribers form about 60 per cent of households here.
MediaCorp is rolling out its digital broadcasting infrastructure here in phases over the next two years.
In December last year, Bukit Batok residents were the first to receive its digital channels.
Dr Yaacob said that the Ang Mo Kio and Jurong East estates were able to receive digital TV signals on Tuesday.
By June, digital transmission to Clementi and Bukit Timah estates will be turned on, followed by Bukit Merah, Queenstown, Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang by year-end.
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