The UK Government has taken a major step towards switchover, inviting broadcasters to talks in order to agree a timetable.
Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture Media And Sport (pictured), told MPs that the outcome of the discussions would be reflected in the digital licences that Ofcom would grant to ITV.
In a statement, she said:
"The BBC and the commercial public service broadcasters have a lead role in achieving switchover. They have an established relationship with virtually all Britain's households and are therefore uniquely placed to ensuring a smooth transition to digital broadcasting. They will also benefit from reduced costs and from the ability to offer consumers a wider range of services."
She went on to say:
"The Government has now written to the commercial terrestrial broadcasters and the BBC inviting them to engage with us and with Ofcom on how to achieve a complete switchover and to establish an appropriate timetable, in liaison with other stakeholders."
Ms Jowell said it was apparent that "more concerted action" by broadcasters, retailers and manufacturers, supported by the government and Ofcom, was required if the full benefits of digital TV were to be made available to the whole population "within the desired period".
According to the government, completing the switch to digital will bring significant benefits to consumers, to broadcasters and to the UK economy, including bringing digital terrestrial TV to the 25 per cent of the population who live in areas that cannot currently receive it because of spectrum limitations.
According to the Financial Times, officials at DCMS refused to be drawn on a likely date for the switch-over, adding: "There are not going to be any incentives in terms of free equipment." The government nevertheless expects prices of equipment to go down considerably before the switch-over.
The FT predicts that Britain will have the world's highest penetration rate for digital TV, at 59 per cent of households, by the end of this year.
Richard Lindsay-Davies, Director of Public Affairs at the DTG said:
"As the independent body for digital television in the UK, with a membership representing camera to consumer, the DTG is developing a practical and workable industry-wide consensus on which form of implementation body is acceptable.
Amongst others Ofcom, BBC, BSkyB, ITV, BT, Dixons Stores Group, Panasonic, Philips and SONY sit on DTG Council, the steering board of the DTG. It was resolved at the last meeting to respond to calls by Ofcom to help 'change gear' and 'move from planning to implementation'."
Ofcom has also recommended that the switchover body should be "...neither the Government, nor the BBC, nor a consortium of broadcasters, nor Ofcom should run SwitchCo because their interests are diverse. Instead, SwitchCo should have sufficient independence so it can represent the national interest effectively, ensure platform neutrality and avoid conflicts of interest."
The DTG remains committed to supporting the process of switchover and plans to publish recommendations for the implementation organisation by the end of July 2004."