Switchover case must be made: Whittingdale

John Whittingdale, Tory chairman of the Commons culture committee, says the Government still has to make the case for digital switchover. Ahead of culture secretary Tessa Jowell's keynote speech in Cambridge tonight, in which she is expected to rubber-stamp Ofcom's proposed 2008-2012 region-by-region timetable, Whittingdale told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that ministers had still not explained the full costs of switchover, "both to the taxpayer and the consumer, and why we are doing it at all".

Jowell's speech has been leaked to several media outlets. She is expected to announce that the Government will provide some form of subsidy to elderly and disabled householders, and explain how the BBC licence fee will be used as a source of the funding.

Reports said Jowell would tell members of the Royal Television Society at their biennial Cambridge convention that digital television was no longer a probability, "it's a certainty, and I believe it can leave us with a legacy of more choice for more choice for more people than anywhere else in the world".

She is expected to add: "For the first time, everyone in this country will by 2012 have the same access to digital television: no more rural communities effectively cut off from the media world the rest of us inhabit, the disabled pensioner having the same access to digital as the City broker."

Whittingdale—whose select committee is poised to conduct an inquiry into the Government's switchover timetable—said he wanted the full facts. "What we need to hear from Government is a precise explanation of how much all this is going to cost, what the technical difficulties are, how they are going to be overcome, and why the Government thinks that it is still important that we should extend Freeview from 75% to 100% [coverage] and that the benefits of doing so are going to be greater than the costs involved."

Meanwhile Ofcom confirmed that by June 30 63% of UK households had made the transition to digital television.

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