Cagliari to pioneer digital b'casting in Italy

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ROME -- The province of Cagliari on the Italian island of Sardinia will be the first part of the country to take a step toward digital broadcasting that by 2012 will become the norm in Italy, the Ministry of Communications said Thursday.

Cagliari will start broadcasting the digital signal no later than March 1. The northern province of Valle d'Aosta will follow soon after.

The digital broadcasts will include all the national terrestrial broadcasters' signals -- three networks each from state broadcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset, and the smallest national network, La 7, owned by Telecom Italia.

The switch to digital broadcast technology has been a point of contention in Italy, where one network each from RAI and Mediaset are required to make the shift to digital technologies by 2009. Mediaset has complained that the move will cost millions in lost revenue, since it is expected that less than half of all Italian televisions will be capable of receiving a digital signal by 2009, despite government incentives aimed at encouraging the purchase of such sets.

As of the end of last year, it is estimated that less than 3% of all televisions in the country were equipped to receive digital signals. As such, the step being taken in the province of Cagliari is tentative: the networks will broadcast simultaneously with a digital and terrestrial signal.

The Ministry of Communications said the dry runs in Cagliari and Valle d'Aosta were designed to reveal potential problems before a national launch of the new technologies expected for 2008.

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