Singaporeans still depending on analogue signals to watch free-to-air television will now have an extra year - till Jan 1, 2019 - to switch over to digital.
Only about half of the over 139,000 low-income households here have made the switch to digital broadcasting, despite the roll-out of a help scheme three years ago. All in, with just two months to go before the original termination date for analogue broadcasts, a quarter of households have not switched.
The announcement of the extension, made in Parliament yesterday, came in a written reply to Mr Melvin Yong's (Tanjong Pagar GRC) question on how ready low-income households here are for digital TV broadcasting.
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "It is important that Singaporeans can continue to access Mediacorp's free-to-air channels after analogue broadcasting is phased out."
This is because free-to-air channels carry programmes that promote societal values and the Singaporean identity, he added.
The move to digital broadcasting started in December 2013 when national broadcaster Mediacorp converted all seven of its free-to-air TV channels to the digital format. It has continued to broadcast in the analogue format, but this will stop from 2019.
Although three-quarters 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, there are still some 75,000 low-income households that have yet to make the switch to digital broadcasting, said Dr Yaacob.
Am I watching a digital or analogue broadcast?
Digital transmissions allow broadcasters to send more signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive higher-quality images and sound.
Other benefits include the ability to toggle the display of subtitles and multiple language options included with programmes.
All of Mediacorp's free-to-air TV channels - Channel 5, Channel 8, Suria, Vasantham, Channel NewsAsia, okto and Channel U - are in high-definition format, and the HD quality can be experienced only with digital TVs.
To continue watching free-to-air TV channels from January 2019, after analogue broadcasting ceases, viewers with older TV sets will need to buy and connect a digital set-top box and an indoor antenna. The equipment retails in shops for about $130.
Pay-TV subscribers need not take action as their set-top boxes act as digital tuners.
Most of the TV sets on sale in the last two years also come with a built-in digital tuner, and retailers also sell antennae. Those who bought one of these need not worry about not being able to receive digital broadcasts.
But to be sure, all analogue TV channels will now carry the "analogue" channel logo on the top right hand corner of the TV screen - to help viewers determine whether they will be affected. If you see it, you need to switch.
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.
Under the Infocomm Media Development Authority's (IMDA) help scheme rolled out in 2014, the needy households are entitled to free equipment.
IMDA has sent out notification letters to over 139,000 households but only about half have claimed and installed their free set-top boxes and indoor antennae, said Dr Yaacob in his written parliamentary reply. IMDA will be intensifying outreach efforts by knocking on doors and working with the grassroots, but this is "not sufficient", he added.
Therefore, the Government decided to extend the deadline. It will also beef up assistance for needy households and will announce the new measures early next year.
The deadline extension will also better align Singapore's analogue switch-off date with that of its neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, expected to be around the beginning of 2019.
There are plans to use the freed-up TV frequency to provide more capacity for mobile broadband in Singapore. Having neighbours that have also switched off their TV frequencies will reduce interference problems for mobile broadband users. Harmonising the move will also facilitate mobile roaming.