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Berlin To Shift To Digital TV, Radio By 2003

Berlin's public radio and television stations plan to shut off their analog broadcast signals next year. But the new digital signal requires an expensive decoder that is generating controversy here.

Berlin is to become the first city in Germany to switch off its analog signal and transmit television and radio programming entirely digitally.

Following a recent decision by the Public Broadcasting Authority in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, the more than 150,000 households in Berlin that currently receive their television reception by antenna will soon only be able to get digital reception.

A pricey decoder, but greater offerings

Viewers will have to pay around 200 euro ($195) for a receiver to decode the digital signal. If they haven't purchased a receiver by the time the analog signal is slated for cut off in mid-2003, they'll get nothing more than a black screen on their television.

The new digital signals can be received through existing television antennas and converted to pictures through a set-top box that decodes the digital signal or by a digital receiver within the television set itself.

Digital signals are of better quality and, since there is more space on the digital spectrum to broadcast, viewers will be able to receive more stations.

But some are questioning the need for the expensive new technology.

"Sending analog signals is simply a waste of resources," says media expert and campaigner, Dr. Andreas Grünwald

The switch

From Nov. 1, four public and three private channels in Germany will be broadcast digitally to viewers and listeners in Berlin. At the same time, however, these channels will also be available via an analog signal.

Germany's public television broadcasters -- ARD and ZDF -- say they will continue broadcasting an analogue signal until August 2003. After that, the plan is to switch off the signal completely.

But it's questionable whether the two states will stand by the planned shut-off date.

"No country has gone as far as to finally turn off their old analog-terrestrial signals," Grünwald told DW-WORLD.

A cool reception in Britain, U.S.

And the countries that have tested terrestrial digital signals, as they are called, have had lukewarm results. The technology has been widely tested in Great Britain and the United States, but it has failed to catch on.Sales of the digital decoders have been slow on both sides of the Atlantic -- despite the fact that 85 percent of British homes are able to receive a digital signal via antenna.

In Germany, however, the prospect of a successful switchover to digital is more hopeful. "Sixty percent of households can receive cable television, and 35 percent have a satellite receiver," Grünwald explained.

The state governments are also investigating the possibility of using lottery funds to distribute digital receivers to economically disadvantaged households in order to ensure they still have access to public television signals.