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Consumer group slams Britain's digital radio switchover

Biased and unrealistic, Department told

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Exclusive A report out later today prepared for the government blasts the radio industry and government for "scaring" consumers into an unrealistic timetable for digital switchover, and recommends both an urgent and impartial examination of DAB costs and benefits, and new criteria for a digital switchover.

It's quite damning stuff.

2015 is far too early, says the Consumer Expert Group in its report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport today entitled Digital Radio Switchover: what is in it for consumers? to start the switchover process. The Group advises that any switchover should only occur when analog radio listening has fallen to 30 per cent of total listening - the current trigger is 50 per cent of "digital" - and says there is far more to do than the radio industry or current policy appreciates.

Low cost DAB sets aren't the answer, the Group notes.

"Lower priced digital sets tend to come with lower sound quality and less functionality, both of which are cited as consumer benefits of digital radio. Rather than providing for a digital radio ‘upgrade’, such strategies will result in consumers ‘downgrading’ their listening experience by trading in good quality analogue radios for bottom of the range digital versions."

They're also hard to use.

A full cost-benefit analysis needs to be undertaken, the report recommends. The public has not been given "accurate and impartial" advice it adds. Audiophiles may take heart from the recommendation that "emphasis should not be placed on driving down costs unless the sound quality and functionality of cheaper DAB sets are at least equal to analogue". It's also asked that plans for future radio include DAB+, and that DAB sets should be future-proofed with DAB+ compatible chipsets "as a matter of urgency".

"Consumer benefits need to be clear and demonstrable," the report adds.

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