Italy to subsidize digital TV sales

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ROME -- The Italian parliament on Friday passed a measure that will give tax breaks of up to €200 ($274) on the purchase of new digital television sets, part of the government's general push to back the new technology.

The rebate will be worth either 20% of the value of the new TV or €200, whichever is lower, and is available only on the first such television purchased by a household. The break will not be retroactive, meaning purchasers of almost 2 million digital televisions so far will miss out on the incentive.

According to government statistics, about 5 million televisions are purchased in Italy each year. The most popular periods for television purchases are in September (the start of the soccer season) and December (for the Christmas holiday).

The incentive will cost the government an estimated €40 million ($55 million).

The government is requiring that all national television networks migrate to digital frequencies no later than 2012, and that the two largest broadcasters -- state broadcaster RAI and Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset -- each switch one of their three networks by 2009.

Mediaset has complained about the requirement, which it says will cost it hundreds of millions of euros, in part because so few Italians own digital TVs.

A Mediaset spokesman applauded the government's incentive plan.

"This will help spread the new technology faster," the spokesman said in a brief phone interview. RAI officials did not return calls seeking comment.
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