Bulgaria to ask for delay in switch to digital broadcasting

Bulgaria’s Government plans to ask the European Commission to postpone the deadline for the switch to digital broadcasting, now set for September 1 2013, Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov said on July 11 after the Cabinet meeting.

At this point in time, the Cabinet could not afford to implement the plan. “The amounts we are talking about look huge, about 300 million leva over two to three years. I can say right now that the state Budget does not have the money and I will not authorise it,” Dyankov said.

The funds would largely go to the Defence Ministry to overhaul the military equipment now using the radio frequency on which the digital signal is to be broadcast.

“If it is possible, we should ask for a delay in the process. It is above what the Budget can bear and I am not convinced that we should be paying hundreds of millions of leva on this process, especially giving the speed at which technology advances; in a few years, the switch to digital broadcasting might not be needed anymore,” Dyankov said.

With the switch to digital broadcasting, the European Commission hopes to bring a wider choice of TV and radio channels to consumers (since it is possible to broadcast several programmes on the same bandwidth as one analogue channel) and more interactive services, while at the same time lowering costs for television operators.

Bulgaria’s digital switchover process has been beset by controversy from the start, with the previous socialist-led tripartite cabinet accused in 2009 of attempting to rig the process to favour specific bidders in the tenders to build digital multiplexes – the facilities where multiple channels are compressed to fit in one broadcast frequency.

The constitutional court declared the tenders unconstitutional, but the ruling came too late to cancel the tenders and the court does not have the power to annul the tenders.

The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria earlier this year, saying that the tender criteria breached a number of EU directives. Bulgaria’s answer is to launch a tender to issue another multiplex licence, which the Cabinet approved on July 11.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the EC will grant Bulgaria’s request to postpone the deadline for the digital switchover – in earlier statements, Bulgarian officials targeted January 1 2015 as the tentative date to complete the switch to digital broadcasting.

In 2005, the EC said in a communication to the European Parliament that “national switchover plans should all be completed by 2012”, arguing that even partially continuing analogue services in some EU member states would act as a barrier to the introduction of these new services and would affect competition with the rest of the world.

In October 2009, Viviane Reding, then EU commissioner for information society, repeated the message, calling on EU countries to speed up the move to digital TV and to make it happen by January 1 2012, a deadline already pushed back to September 1 2013.

(Photo: edmondo/sxc.hu)



Alex Bivol

Alex Bivol is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe.