Italian budget includes digital TV rebates

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ROME --- Italy's 2007 budget will include a program that will give Italians who buy new high-definition digital television sets rebates worth up to €200 ($257) in a bid to promote the spread of digital broadcast technology in Italy.

The plan will reward buyers of the new sets with a rebate of 20% of the value of the technology or €200, whichever is less. Sets bought between Jan. 1, 2007,  and the end of 2009 will be eligible for the rebate.

Though digital technology has existed in Europe since the start of the decade, Italians have been slow to adopt it. According to the research group Censis, some 73% of Italians still use old terrestrial television, compared with just 50% in Germany, 41% in France, and 31% in the U.K. The average television in Italy is more than six years old, one of the oldest averages in Western Europe, Censis said.

The incentive program, announced Sunday, is thought to be worth around €45 million ($57.8 million) over three years.

Last month, the Italian government passed a law requiring state broadcaster RAI and private broadcaster Mediaset -- which each own three national networks -- to switch one network each to solely digital technologies by 2009. Mediaset, which is controlled by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, complained that the plan was punitive since it would mean his network would loose viewers if it switched to digital technologies.

All Italian broadcasters will be required to switch to digital standards by 2012.

But critics of the switchover say that it is coming too soon, given the low penetration rate for televisions capable to receiving the digital signal.
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