Russian digital switchover stalled

Russian government failed to approve funding details

MOSCOW -- The future of Russia's $4 billion state-funded switch to digital TV -- originally targeted for 2015 -- is looking increasingly cloudy as the government again failed to approve the program's details.

The ministry for economic development and trade, which is in charge of the program's final approval, said Tuesday that it has sent the document back to the communications ministry for revision.

And while sources in the ministry say that the revisions are "technical" in nature, it is not clear if the government will be able to find the necessary 127 billion rubles ($3.85 billion) when expenditures are being slashed due to the economic crisis.

The program, under which all Russian households were supposed to switch to digital television by 2015, was initially discussed last year, with the government originally planning to pay for digital equipment for every household in the country. Other proposals, however, suggested that only poorer segments of the population be entitled to free digital receivers -- an issue that stalled the program's further development in September 2008.

At this point, the situation looks even more precarious, as the country's budget, based on the forecast oil price of $90 per barrel, is being revised to be brought in line with current economic conditions.

In addition, as a large proportion of the equipment for digital television will need to be imported, the weakening Russian ruble will make the cost of the program much higher than previously calculated.