Budget 2014: Digital TV switchover complete but funding continues

The government will spend $461,000 to help its last tranche of Australians migrate to digital TV this year, but the 2014 Budget confirms it will still cost around $11m annually to support those who live too far from terrestrial digital TV towers.

This year will see the last Australian consumers helped to switch from analogue to digital TV, but that won't stop the Department of Communications from spending $43.7 million on switchover-related initiatives over the next four years.

Funding for the Digital Television Switchover, as detailed in the Abbott government's maiden Budget handed down  this week, will decline from $39.88m this year to just $10.91m next year, then stay at around the level for at least the next four years.

The spending plans were outlined in the Department of Communications budget papers and highlight the ongoing cost of the digital-TV transition even though the Digital Switchover Programme is expected to assist its last 92,750 households this financial year at a cost of $461,000.

Some 9400 households will also receive service this year through the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, but neither it nor the Household Assistance Scheme will continue into the new financial year.

While funding for switchover-related programs ceases this year – explained in the departmental budget papers as being because “Supplier and subsidy expenses decrease in 2014-15, reflecting the completion of the Digital Television Switchover and Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme programmes” – a Department spokesperson said the ongoing funding will support the continuation of the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service.

VAST was first established in 2010 as part of the switchover program, and delivers digital free-to-air services to parts of the country where there is limited or no conventional coverage.

The funding goes to WA Satco Pty Ltd – which delivers the VAST service in Western Australia – and Eastern Australia Satellite Broadcasters Limited, a joint venture of Southern Cross Austereo and Imparja Television that delivers VAST to the rest off the country.

VAST isn't the only vestige of the digital TV switchover to receive funding in the current budget: the restacking effort, in which the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Department of Communications are working to reshufffle TV broadcast frequencies to free up the so-called 700MHz 'digital dividend' radiofrequency spectrum, will receive $52.285m in funding during the 2014-15 financial year. That's up from $46.113m this year, but will drop to $9.460m during the program's last year in 2015-16.

The reduction reflects the phasing out of the Spectrum Restacking Assistance program, which forms part of the Digital Television Switchover program.

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