In dealing with the many individual country challenges raised by the switchover, experts recommend regional co-ordination to meet the June 2015 deadline.
By Safet Kabashaj for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 09/07/12
The analogue-to-digital switchover requires legal and technical infrastructure and usually takes two and a half years to complete, according to experts. [Reuters]
The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting is well under way in the region, but because of different practices, timing and problems, the countries are struggling to meet the June 2015 deadline when the analogue switch off will commence in Europe.
Experts say the transformation process is complicated and costly and can take several years. It requires a special legal framework, strategy, investment in technology and a public information campaign.
"The Digital Broadcasting Law [in Montenegro] was amended in June and the final analogue switch off date was postponed until mid-June 2015," Jadranka Vojvodic, deputy director of the Montenegrin Agency for Electronic Media, told SETimes.
Vojvodic explained the overall legislative framework revision process coincided with the lack of interest and commitment from key stakeholders, a common problem.
The process in Kosovo stalled because the Council of Independent Media Commission (IMC) is not complete, which precludes it from adopting a digitalisation strategy.
"For 18 months, IMC has not had a council, and despite the commitment from the executive office to fulfill its duties as stipulated by the law, we cannot finalise the strategy," Naile Krasniqi Selimaj, IMC chief executive, said.
Selimaj is adamant Kosovo will complete the switchover in due course with external support. Not being a member of the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union, however, complicates meeting the deadline.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is awaiting the approval of the new digitalisation action plan, according to Sinisa Petrovic, assistant director for radio frequency in the BiH Communications Regulatory Agency.
"The realistic estimated time to begin work is at the end of 2014 or early 2015, but no way after mid-June 2015, the day we are obliged to complete the transition from analogue to digital according to international agreements," Petrovic said.
Albania has yet to adopt a digitalisation strategy and a law to begin the process.
The switchover process is in the beginning stages in Macedonia, and results there are promising. Macedonia was the first in the region to start digital broadcasting, but in a cable system, according to Selver Ajdini of Macedonia's Broadcasting Council.
"Based on the information I have, we will switch off the analogue broadcasting on June 30th, 2013," Ajdini told SETimes.
Turkey, which plans to complete the process by June 2015, needs to erect numerous transmitters to cover the entire population but faces significant costs.
"The installation costs of that many transmitters become very high," Erdem Cakmak, an expert from Turkey's Radio and Television Supreme Council, told SETimes.
British digitalisation expert Andrew Dumbreck told SETimes that given the challenges the regional countries face, co-operation among them is crucial.
"It makes a great deal of sense for Balkans countries to co-operate together on developing switchover plans, in terms of frequency co-ordination, switchover timings and broadcast and receiver specification," Dumbreck said.
Damir Hajduk of the Croatian Council Media in the Agency for Electronic Media agreed.
"The optimal timeframe to complete the switch off is 2015, if all stakeholders reach consensus about the most important things in the process," Hajduk told SETimes.
Croatia is the only regional country that has already completed the switch.
"More important than the date is designing a good switchover plan, with clear goals and dates, and planning a sustainable and well managed TV broadcast system," Dumbreck said.