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The Government must stop procrastinating over plans for the UK to be a nation of digital TV viewers and should set a date for ditching analogue transmission.

In its first report into the subject, communications regulator Ofcom, said there should be "greater certainty" to the timing of the digital switchover.

"An announcement of a timetable would significantly extend digital penetration in the UK and would help allow digital switchover to be achieved between 2007 and the end of 2010," said the regulator.

Boffins at Ofcom also said that the switchover should be phased in, region-by-region so that TV screens don't go blank overnight.

Among the 23 recommendations contained in Driving Digital Switchover, Ofcom said existing terrestrial channels need to be available as part of a free-to-view satellite service. And if it's not forthcoming voluntarily, it might even consider regulation to ensure that services are available to all.

Said Ofcom: "Free-to-view digital satellite could play an important role in increasing take-up among those who do not want pay TV. But free-to-view access to all the public service broadcasters is currently not possible on digital satellite. Ofcom will consider whether regulatory intervention is needed to secure a viable free-to-view satellite proposition."

Welcoming today's report, the Ofcom Consumer Panel - the independent body set up to advise Ofcom on consumer interests - said that consumers would benefit from the digital switchover.

But the consumer group warned that the costs of the switchover could hit some disadvantaged people, such as pensioners, who might not be able to afford new kit to receive digital TV. It also warned the people needed to be kept informed about the switchover.

Said Colette Bowe, chairman of the consumer panel: "We can't leave information provision to the last minute. The Panel will be taking a close interest in the information that is provided to consumers about digital switchover. There will need to be completely clear, helpful, non-technical advice widely available." ®

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