Digital costs turn off viewers

By Christine Linnell of the Greymouth Star

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Some television owners on the West Coast are stuck without TV after the digital switch over because they cannot afford the new equipment.

"They turn their TV on and they've got no TV; what are they going to do?" said Greg Jeffs, of Coastal Electronics Greymouth.

The old analogue television signal was turned off on September 30 and since then only those with Sky or Freeview are able to watch tv, using a digital or satellite signal.

Even the most basic package; a Freeview set-top box and satellite dish; will cost upwards of $400, including installation.

The Government's Going Digital office said at the end of an extensive awareness campaign over the past year that 99 per cent of West Coast households had made the switch.

However, technicians are still dealing with a string of people wanting their sets hooked up with the required set top box and satellite dish, and Mr Jeffs has so far turned down five of them because they could not pay for it up front.

"It's mostly people who haven't got any money to pay for it. They get it done and won't pay the bill."

Would-be customers had asked if they could pay later in instalments, but Mr Jeffs said he could not risk that due to past experience of people not paying their bills.

"I actually knew that would happen," he said.

"Everybody who could afford it got it done earlier on, like a year before."

He sympathised with those who could not afford the changeover, including beneficiaries.

"I don't even know how they live on the money they get, it's unbelievable. But I'm struggling myself."

Runanga technician Pat Nicholls said he was still doing a couple of digital tv jobs a week, though it was slowing down. Some people were now hooking up extra sets, having already taken care of their main TV.

He also noticed that many Coasters could not afford to make the switch, particularly the elderly and people on the sickness benefit.

"I think (the Government) didn't target enough people. The cut-off age was 75 (for the targeted assistance package). I think it should have been 65. There are a lot of kids missing out because their parents are on the benefit," Mr Nicholls said.

Going Digital national manager Greg Harford said a survey of 475 West Coast homes covering the first two weeks of October found that 99 per cent of homes had successfully switched to digital.

"We certainly monitor barriers to digital take-up," he said.

"Cost is only an issue for a very small number of people."

He said his team had not had any calls on the issue so far, and advised people on the benefit to talk to Work and Income.

A Work and Income spokesman said that while television was usually used for entertainment and would not be considered essential, there were some circumstances where beneficiaries could apply for a recoverable assistance payment to be repaid later.

This could include beneficiaries using television as social inclusion while disabled and housebound, a language tool for people learning English, or access to necessary information such as teletext for the hearing impaired.

But for low-income people not on the benefit who do not qualify for targeted assistance, the only option is to keep the television off until they can afford to make the switch.

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