HDB homes yet to switch to digital broadcasting will get free equipment to do so: Yaacob Ibrahim

IMDA has started sending letters this month to the 400,000 HDB homes informing them that they are entitled to free equipment worth $100.
IMDA has started sending letters this month to the 400,000 HDB homes informing them that they are entitled to free equipment worth $100. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Some $40 million has been earmarked to help up to 400,000 Housing Board households still depending on analogue signals to watch free-to-air television to make the switch to digital broadcasting.

This comes as Singapore prepares to turn off analogue broadcasting by Dec 31 this year. After this date, those who have not installed new digital TV equipment or subscribed to pay TV services will no longer receive Mediacorp's free-to-air channels.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will start sending letters this month to the 400,000 HDB homes informing them that they are entitled to free equipment worth $100.

They can choose to either have a free digital set-top box and antenna installed at their premises for free, or get $100 off digital TV equipment of their choice at participating stores including Best Denki, Gain City, Courts and Harvey Norman.

Announcing this on Friday (April 6) at IMDA's annual partners' appreciation event at Mediacorp, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the Government is committed to helping Singaporeans transition to digital TV and enjoy its benefits.

Digital transmissions allow broadcasters to send more signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive higher quality images and sound.

Users can also, among other benefits, choose which subtitles and language options to display.

To date, a huge chunk of some 1.2 million Singapore households are already receiving Mediacorp's digital TV signals over the air or through their pay TV set-top boxes.

However, there are still some 400,000 HDB homes, including 32,000 low-income ones, that have yet to make the switch to digital broadcasting.

Through a help scheme the IMDA rolled out in 2014, 70,000 needy households have claimed and installed their free set-top boxes and indoor antennae.

These are people living in one- or two-room rental flats, or those on ComCare or self-help groups' help schemes. They have a monthly income of $1,900 and below, or an annual property value of $13,000 or lower.

But more can be done, said Dr Yaacob, noting that this is why the original help scheme has now been expanded.

He said in Parliament in November last year that access to Mediacorp's free-to-air channels is important as they are a key source of news and entertainment in four languages, and carry programmes that promote societal values and the Singaporean identity.

Then, he had also announced that analogue broadcasts would terminate only at the end of 2018, instead of a year earlier as planned, to get more people to make the switch.

Singapore plans to use the freed-up analogue TV frequency to provide more capacity for mobile broadband.

Malaysia and Indonesia are expected to switch off analogue broadcasting in 2019. Having neighbours that have also switched off their TV frequencies will reduce interference problems for mobile broadband users.