£130m a year digital switch-over surplus battle commences

Following the goverments’ dreadful handling of the digital switchover programme, most of which was farmed out to a private company, it has been revealed that there will be a £130m a year surplus a year due to the underspend. The money was originally earmarked to provide financial & technical assistance for the new set-top boxes for the over-75s. Sadly, the assistance has been poorly advertised and provided, with most over 75s either purchasing the new kit out of their own pocket or not bothering at all.

Now the vultures are circling, with Channel 4 favourite to take a slice to help it fund the channel’s £150m funding gap. While the money was supposed to be ring-fenced, Ofcom seems to suggest that it could be used for other projects within the TV industry. Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said ” If some of that is unused it is absolutely legitimate to ask what the best use of that money is.”

I think that considering some of the reception problems already occuring since the digital switchover started (for example in Irlam & Cadishead), this money should be put back into the very scheme it was designed for in the first place – that is, helping ensure that all have access to freeview digital channels, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

I would expand the scheme to include over 60s, rather than just over 75s and if funds allow, other vulnerable groups.