Japan ready to help ‘digitize’ Philippine TV networks

By Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror

Posted at Mar 22 2011 01:52 AM | Updated as of Mar 22 2011 07:20 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Japan is ready to give the state-run National Broadcasting Network (Channel 4) a $4-million (P174.8-million) grant to help it shift to digital television.

Commissioner Gamaliel Cordoba of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), announcing this, said Japan said was ready to extend the similar soft loans to other broadcasting firms for the same purpose.

The NTC said it would take some time yet before the full digitation of television—which would make obsolete the currently used analog television sets—is realized.

Cordoba said the Japan grant would be spent to buy transmitters, antennas and the like. “Japan just wants to help,” he said.

He said Japan was awaiting the signing of the memorandum of cooperation that would formalize the Philippines’ intent” to adapt Japan’s Integrated Services Digital Broadcast (ISDB) technology as the standard for digital TV.

The implementing rules of the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcast service in the country will be released in June.

The draft cooperation agreement has been circulated to other government agencies, including the National Economic and Development Authority, for their inputs, Cordoba said.

Under the draft rules, Japan expressed willingness to financially assist Philippine broadcasting firms through attractive financial packages to help them cope with their investment in digital TV. No amount was set, however. “It depends on how big the network is but the terms are very relaxed. They will provide financial assistance even to government-owned TV stations,” said Cordoba.

The NTC chief also said that Japan has lowered the price of set-top boxes to $10.98 each; the actual cost, when purchased by a consumer, could be higher. “ There will be freight costs to be shouldered by the importer,” said the NTC chief.

When DTT technology will be enforced in the country, all analog TV handsets would be rendered obsolete unless connected to a set-top box.

Depending on the demand, Japan is willing to manufacture set-top boxes here so these could be sold at cheaper prices. At the same time, this could provide job opportunities to Filipinos.

“But for now, Sharp Philippines and Eagle World of China have expressed interest tin manufacturing the boxes in the Philippines so that Filipinos can buy them and even the digital TV units at cheaper price,” Cordoba said.

The NTC plans to start implementing digital-television service in select cities by 2012. It wants the shift to be implemented in phases, the same way Japan did, NTC Deputy Commissioner Carlo Jose Martinez said.

“We plan to follow Japan’s model. They started with Tokyo then Osaka, followed by other major cities. The TWG [technical working group] has yet to identify which cities would start the digital TV shift but maybe we could start with Manila, Cebu, Davao,” he said.

Martinez could not provide the timetable for the analog TV broadcast termination but said it won’t be soon—or not in 2015 which was the year previously identified by the NTC administration.

“Japan was able to shut off its analog [broadcasts] after nine to 10 years upon the introduction of digital TV. So it would probably be the same here. The consumers will be our basis as to when the shutdown will take effect,” he said.

Japan’s ISDB-T platform is expected to provide more business opportunities because the bandwidth that will be assigned for digital TV can also be used to service mobile phones. The technology is also capable of sending emergency warning broadcasts to households