Friday marks start of Italian DTV age

Illegal to sell sets that can't receive digital signals

ROME -- The digital television age in Italy officially begins Friday -- at least from the consumer's point of view.

It's the first day when it will be illegal for Italian retailers to sell television sets that are not capable of receiving digital signals.

Broadcasters have been preparing for this point for months. Two Italian regions already have switched to digital signals, and most of the remaining 19 are scheduled to do so before the end of next year. The traditional terrestrial signals will still be in use until then, but will eventually be phased out as well.

The three networks of state broadcaster RAI, Silvio Berlusconi's three Mediaset networks and La 7 from Telecom Italia Media have all gotten into the act, promoting the increased quality of high-definition digital programs on their stations. The Ministry of Communications has sponsored a public awareness campaign to alert Italian residents to the switch.

Still, about half of the televisions in Italy are incapable of directly receiving digital signals. Though that number is dropping quickly, levels are still behind government projections released two years ago.

The switchover date has been known since 2007, when the communications reform law went into effect, but it seems to have caught some retailers off guard: several have advertised sales on terrestrial-only sets already in stock. Second-hand sellers can continue to push the old-fashioned sets without restriction.