Japan not quite ready for digital switch

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TOKYO -- As many as 600,000 households in outlying areas of Japan may be unable to receive the digital terrestrial broadcasts that will replace the current analog service in 2011, Communications Ministry sources said Friday.

On Thursday, the Ministry's Kyushu Bureau of Communications, which covers the southernmost of Japan's four main islands, reported that 62,000 households in mountain areas and outlying islands may be left without terrestrial digital coverage, the only public confirmation so far of the number of homes that will be not be covered. An official announcement from the ministry on the total number is expected soon.

Public broadcaster Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) is working with commercial stations to build relay stations to extend coverage as widely as possible by the time analog broadcasting ends on July 24, 2011.

The ministry and broadcaster will keep a close eye on how similar problems are resolved in the U.S., when it makes the transition to digital-only broadcasting in February 2009.

The Japanese government's current plan is to have 99% of homes covered by March 2011, but those in outlying areas, such as islands and mountainous regions, may be left staring at blank screens. The Communications Ministry is looking at plans to use satellite broadcasts to try and reach areas that won't be covered by the relay stations.

The government is also concerned that not all households will have ponied up for a plasma or LCD TV by 2011. With this in mind, it is encouraging Japanese TV manufacturers to develop reasonably priced adaptors, costing less than ¥5,000 ($43.50), to allow people to watch the new broadcasts on their old analog TVs.
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