News: First digital switchover town announced

The fishing town of Whitehaven in Cumbria has been selected as the first area in the UK to be switched over to fully digital TV reception next year.

The analogue television signal will be switched over to digital in autumn 2007. Help will be available for older and disabled people, broadcasting minister Shaun Woodward and industry minister Margaret Hodge announced.

The plan for Whitehaven, which will be led by Digital UK, was confirmed in a letter to MPs, along with the detailed timetable for switchover in the Border region - the first to start the switch in 2008.

Digital UK, the not-for-profit, independent group set up to oversee digital switchover, will run the Whitehaven pilot. Chief executive Ford Ennals said: "Today's announcement puts Whitehaven at the forefront of the most exciting change to television for a generation. Switchover will significantly add to the choice of channels available and give people options in how to go digital."

"Digital UK's job is to make sure everyone knows how to prepare for the change and that no one is left behind. In the coming months, we will be working closely with many different organisations in Whitehaven to ensure everyone is prepared for switchover and the benefits it will bring."

Residents of Whitehaven and the surrounding area will receive an extra 14 television channels and access to digital radio stations, all through their aerials.

Whitehaven is a community of around 25,000 households and has been chosen because it is a clearly defined area with little signal overlap; residents cannot currently receive Freeview; it is technically suitable for engineering purposes and it is part of a region with high switchover awareness.

The Selkirk area, also in Border, will switch a year later in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Switchover in Border will be completed in the second quarter of 2009, when the area served by the Caldbeck transmitter switches over.

Shaun Woodward said: "The people of Whitehaven will lead the rest of the UK into the digital future. They will be the first to experience the enormous benefit from digital switchover as it will happen across the UK."

"Over 15 million UK homes are already enjoying the benefits of digital TV, such as greater choice of channels, red button interactive features and better quality pictures and sound."

"We know from the Ferryside trial that it's possible to switch a community from analogue to digital television. And we know from the Bolton trial that older and disabled people can make the switch with the right help."

"I'm pleased that Digital UK will bring both the technical and support aspects of switchover together in Whitehaven and begin the biggest change to British broadcasting since colour TV."

Minister for industry and the regions Margaret Hodge said: "Digital switchover will help the UK maintain its position as a world leader in broadcasting. It will also ensure today's current terrestrial broadcasting network is replaced by the best technology available, digital."

"Whitehaven will be a great opportunity to prove that we can give people all the information that they need to switch their TV equipment easily."

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