De Vabres urges speeding of digital shift

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PARIS -- French cultural minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres stressed the urgency of passing a new bill that calls for a major national shift from analog to digital television in every household in addition to laying the groundwork for the eventual development of HDTV and handheld portable TV.

Voting on the law should be accomplished no later than February to ensure that the plan can be enacted on schedule, he said at a press breakfast Friday.

"The urgency of this bill is an urgency for French society, for its television viewers and for the cultural industry," he said, pointing out that "France is already behind compared to our European neighbors in terms of programs offered. We are the only major European country where over 80% of television viewers only watch six channels."

The launch of a free satellite offering would allow 100% of the metropolitan population to receive DTT channels free of charge without subscription, and, thanks to a bill and amendment passed by the Commissions for Cultural Affairs, those living in mountainous regions would be able to receive this free offer of 18 satellite channels beginning early next year.

Donnedieu de Vabres said that the shift from analog to digital cannot take place unless every French person's home meets the necessary conditions to receive digital television.

The bill calls for an increase in the tax paid by TV stations to support new content production, providing grants and subsidies to French films and producers of audiovisual works and subsequently contributing to the production of high-definition and mobile-television formats.

The switch to digital TV, the minister said, will provide a vast improvement in television reception across the country, in terms of both the quality of images and sound and the diversity of programs on its channels.

"This bill that I am defending is fundamental. It's digital TV for everyone in France," he added. "It's finally a new resource for audiovisual and cinematographic creation."

The shift from analog to digital terrestrial TV coverage in France is set to begin March 31, 2008. It will continue progressively by geographic zone until Nov. 30, 2011.
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