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Digital switch leaves £300m spare for faster broadband and local TV launch

Rural broadband and local TV will get a £300m boost from a fund created to help the elderly and vulnerable switch to digital TV.

DigitAl's almost finishedThe Digital Switchover Help Scheme has only spent about half the £603m it was allocated from the TV Licence Fee to help people switch from analogue to digital.

London completed its digital switchover yesterday, and the UK’s seven-year switch programme will finish in Northern Ireland in October.

The Digital Switchover Help Scheme was developed to contact the elderly and vulnerable, and galvanise community groups to create on-the-ground support.

Every eligible home is being offered a £40 package to convert their main TV, including a choice of digital TV kit, installation help, and support for a year. It’s free to eligible people who are on income-related benefits.

According to The Guardian, the government wants to redirect the money to the launch of local TV channels and to help with the roll-out of faster broadband services to rural locations.

As part of the TV Licence, it might be possible to divert the TV Licence to local TV, but there may be problems redirecting it to funding broadband.

Broadband rollout funds

The government has set aside £530m to encourage investment in providing basic and superfast broadband in rural areas where it’s not commercially viable to build new networks, administered by Broadband Delivery UK.

It has also created a £100m ‘super-connected cities’ fund to improve broadband coverage in ten cities including London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Further funding will be offered to six smaller cities of less than 150,000 homes this July.

By 2015, the government wants 90 per cent of homes and businesses in the UK to have access to superfast broadband over 24Mbps. The remaining 10 per cent should have access at speeds of at least 2Mbps.

The Rural Community Broadband Fund has a £26m pot from BDUK and the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) to help rural communities in England on small community broadband projects.

There’s also up to £100m of European funding available to help small businesses with their ‘last mile’ connections to broadband networks.

Local TV

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt wants to create locally-run TV stations using a nationally-run network on Freeview, each with the guarantee of the Channel 6 Freeview slot in their area.

A shortlist of 20 towns and cities have been invited to become the pioneers, launching services by 2015. A further 45 areas have been identified as having strong potential and empty Freeview capacity for local TV.

The government has identified £40m to help local TV get started, with £25m for launch costs and £5m a year to develop programming over the first three years.

The channels would be committed to two hours of local news per day at the beginning, with some nationally-syndicated shows.

The ‘local’ Freeview multiplex will also host a couple of national TV channels which will be added to the normal Freeview service in their area – given the cost of a Freeview channel at auction, these could be lucrative for the national network operator, subsidising the cost of the local channel.

Sky and Virgin have also agreed to using either apps or the yellow button to give local TV services a spot in their programme guides.

The first 20 areas to receive local TV services will be: Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Grimsby, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, Plymouth, Preston, Southampton and Swansea.

Areas with further potential include Aberdeen, Ayr, Bangor, Barnstaple, Basingstoke, Bedford, Cambridge, Carlisle, Derry/Londonderry, Dundee, Guildford, Hereford, Inverness, Kidderminster, Limavady, Luton, Maidstone, Malvern, Mold, Salisbury, Sheffield, Stoke on Trent, Stratford upon Avon and York.