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24.03.2011 09:54

Facing the Digital Future

David Mchedlidze
Digital Broadcasting

"Georgian government plans replacement of analogue system to digital television by the end of 2014.  Still, neither the government of Georgia, nor other institutions, including the National Commission for Communications of Georgia have taken any steps so far for preparing the process in framework of the legislation. There are no legal and political obligations for the changing to digital system to be available for population.  It is also unknown what expenses will be necessary for abolishing the analogue system.

In the TV selling stores they are mostly not selling digital TV-sets and are still trading with the analogue models.  Society has not been informed and is unaware that their TV-sets must answer the new requirements.  Analogue TV-sets are cheaper so Georgians mostly choose them, but they don't know that in about four years they will be absolutely useless.  Technical, or financial support to population has not yet been discussed, or proposed".

This is an extract from the report:  "European Neighbor Politics:  Fulfilling the Aims of European Union-Georgian Action Plan", which was presented to the public by the "Open Society - Georgia" Foundation last week.  Changing to new technologies is just one segment describing the media situation in Georgia.  Changing to digital broadcast is one of the most important parts of the challenges the Georgian media is facing and everything associated to it for the given moment unfortunately only creates questions.

First of all, changing to digital broadcast is not a promise the government can give to population and not keep it.  Digital television is a necessity, inevitable future, which is already "knocking on our door" and about which the government of Georgia and of other countries have been warned long time ago, at the Geneva Regional Conference back in 2006.  Decision was made that by 2015 Georgia, Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan must fully change to digital television system.  For the European Union member countries the deadline is 2012.

Media experts Sandro Baramidze explains it is not someone's caprice, world is changing to new technologies and if we don't want to be the outsiders, left out of the common information field, we must keep the pace up.  This is also very important because of the fact that the world has divided new frequencies and if Georgia does not use up its 175 digital frequencies they may be given to someone else.  This someone else may be for example Russia, which is our geographic neighbor and technologically will easily achieve the goal.

In addition to all the above mentioned the digital television also has many advantages, giving the country more opportunities, so naturally, it is not just the necessity, it must be preferred.  Digital image quality is a lot higher then of the analogue system (currently used) and a person has a possibility to pause, or rewind the program and also it is possible to locate 8 channels at one digital frequency.  This means Georgia will actually have 8 times 175 digital channels creating a lot more competitive environment in the electronic media and in electronic industry in general.

It also creates new area for business development.  Media expert Sandro Baramidze (who has broadly spoken about the given issue at the IREX and GYLA mutual training) outlines several issues, including the decoders which would allow the analogue devices to receive digital image and the digital devices which will be absolutely necessary for Georgia in several years.  There has not been a demand for digital technologies so far, due to the fact that the society has not been informed about the oncoming changes.

Probably the demand will be higher for decoders than for the new digital devices, as they are a lot cheaper than the new digital TV-sets.  For example in the USA the price of decoders does not exceed 10 USD.  Additionally, those countries which have already changed to digital broadcast have developed special programs for the socially vulnerable part of population.  The United States spent 1 billion USD and England spent 600 million Pounds for providing socially vulnerable segments of population with the necessary technologies.

Such expenses are not a caprice either as the right for undisturbed receiving of information is the fundamental right of any citizen and provision for the given right is the obligation of every country, including Georgia, based on the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and its Constitution.  Georgia should have already developed a coinciding plan and should have already counted the expenses the country will have to take, but as the media experts claim and as it is shown in the mentioned researches, nothing has been done yet for the cause.

The given uncertainty will mostly hit the regional media, which may face multiple financial and technical problems.  Because of this fact the representatives of TV channels are themselves working on coinciding changes, which they will pass to the government, namely the directly responsible Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.  Other TV companies, which will need new, digital frequency for broadcast, are also waiting.  Logically, those who already own analogue frequency should receive digital frequency without any problem.

Logically it is like that, but there is one more moment:  1 digital frequency provides for broadcast of 8 channels so multiplexes are created and the issuing of a license to TV channels will be done in framework of their, 8-channel digital frequency.  Different options are being used in the countries, which have already changed to digital television (those countries are:  Finland, Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain).  The experience of each of those countries is of interest for us, furthermore that the National Commission for Communication of Georgia has not yet taken any measures in the given direction.

In some of the above listed countries a license is issued on the basis of a tender for multiplex operation and after the winning operator decides to who to issue a frequency.  In some of the countries the coinciding state commission regulates the issuing of licenses in the multiplex also.   In some of the countries multiplex owners have a right to operate own TV channel, in some of the countries they do not.  Unlike the African countries which must change to digital broadcast by 2020, Georgia must already know what to do and how to do it.

We do not have answers to all these questions at the moment.  It is also unknown whether the digital television will be free of charge or not.  The Public Channel will not have a problem, but the other channels may have to make such a choice.  For the moment being we cannot even claim that Georgian spectators will have a richer choice with the additional resources - as the media expert Sandro Baramidze says, even the resource that Georgia has in view of analogue systems is not fully used up.  Our country is again facing the new and inevitable reality unprepared.

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