COMMUNICATIONS Minister Eamon Ryan has said he would like to see RTÉ broken up to allow it focus on broadcasting and give another company responsibility for the country’s masts and transmission infrastructure.
The state broadcaster has been asked to develop a network of 51 digital television masts at a cost of €70 million and get these working by 2012.
This would complete phase one of a free digital television package and allow for the existing analogue aerials and masts to be switched off.
However, Mr Ryan said he would like to investigate whether this network could be taken from the control of RTÉ and given to a new company.
“The question as to whether it would be better to set out the transmission network from RTÉ is something I am looking forward to discussing with the State Assets Review Group and RTÉ.
“I think it makes sense to give very immediate consideration to that,” he said.
Mr Ryan said this in response to a question on whether RTÉ would have to increase its licence fee to pay for the new digital television network.
He said he believed RTÉ had the capital reserves to fund the €70m project and would be able to borrow money to pay for any shortfall.
But he also said he did not want the state broadcaster to dictate the terms on which the new service was operated or who ran it.
“RTÉ is a state-owned company and it is in the interests of the state that this is developed. So we have had very good long discussion with the board and executives in RTÉ so they are fully aware of why we are doing this and the sense of it,” he said.
The minister said digital television will be rolled out in two or three phases.
The first will be tested early next year and will be ready to be delivered nationally when the analogue signals are switched off at the end of 2012.
This will have the standard RTÉ 1, RTÉ 2, TV3, TV3e and TG4 plus a maximum of four others.
He estimated the second phase will be switched on by 2015 and will have another eight channels.
RTÉ Transmission Networks was charged with developing the digital infrastructure after two private companies, Boxer and One Vision, failed to find funding to develop it.
Mr Ryan said he wanted the future phases, when more channels will be possible, to include options such as a film channel and other private offerings.
“I think we are going to have to sit down with the providers and get a way of getting a range of new channels in. It should not be only RTÉ and it won’t be,” he said.
For most televisions, householders will be required to buy a set-top box to receive the digital signal.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved