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NTC tells EU: formalize bid to intervene in tech review for shift to digital TV

InterAksyon.com means BUSINESS

MANILA, Philippines -  Put it in writing, please. Philippine regulators will act on a request by the European Union to delay the deadline for the re-evaluation of the standards for the digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcast service in the country once they get a formal request from the EU, National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) chief Gamaliel Cordoba said Tuesday.

The NTC sought the formal request a day after a joint group from the EU delegation to the Philippines and Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) representatives made a presentation and asked for an extension. They were told that the technical working group is now working on the review of the standards and that any move to delay the process must be formalized.

 The review itself, announced two weeks ago by the NTC, had caused a stir in the industry because it meant that the much-awaited June 30 issuance of the implementing rules and regulations on the industry’s migration to digital TV would not be met.

The NTC had directed its technical committee to re-evaluate the standards for the DTT broadcast service and to submit its findings on or before June 30. Cited as basis for the re-evaluation were “recent developments” pertaining to the endorsement by some players of the second-generation digital video broadcasting (DVB T2) from Europe, even though NTC earlier opted to adopt Japan’s Integrated Services Digital Broadcasting-Technology (ISDB-T) standard. The review panel was told to compare the two. 

Associated Broadcasting Corp. (ABC), which operates TV5, had served notice it will run trials in late June or early July for the DTT broadcast service, running on a platform endorsed by Japan’s largest mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo.

TV5 president Ray C. Espinosa said at that time, “We remain supportive of ISDB-T which we favorably endorsed to the NTC (National Telecommunications Commission) previously. Our letter to the NTC is to secure permission to do ISDB-T trials already and also to do comparison with DVB’s (Digital Video Broadcasting) T2.” 

EU wants 'sound, transparent' review

In seeking to be heard in the review process, the EU indicated on Monday that it wanted a process that allows all stakeholders to ask questions and to receive detailed information on standards available, including DVB-T2, an updated and modernized version of DVB.

The EU wondered aloud why the TWG did not organize a hearing with DVB representatives, noting that broadcasters should be given the chance to try DVB-T2 and compare its performance with the Japanese standard. 

The EU also asked Philippine regulators to consider recent developments with the rollout of DVB-T2 in Europe, Africa and Asia. At last week’s CommunicAsia/ BroadcastAsia, Singapore’s government declared it will start rolling out DVB-T2 before yearend.

Cost an issue, too

Cost, however, seems to play a key role in the preference of the industry for the Japanese ISDB, according to sources at the technical working group that is doing the review.

Sources at the TWG said the cost of each set top box for the new version of the European standard is from $45 to $50. The Europeans have not offered come-ons dangled by the Japanese, who said they could manufacture the boxes here and even assist the Philippine government stations. If the ISDB platform were adopted, the set top box per unit will fetch only $15 each.

Before the EU team came, the results of the review was expected to be announced soon by the TWG chaired by NTC deputy commissioner Jose Martinez.

The end-June target for issuing the IRR for the transition to digital broadcasting will definitely not be met, though, officials said.

Without the rules, industry players could not fully start the shift to digital TV.

Japan ’s ISDB-T platform is seen to provide more business opportunities because the bandwidth to be given  to digital TV can be used to service mobile phones. Emergency warning broadcasts to households are also possible with this technology.

Some industry players, notably GMA Network,  had touted the European DVB T2 as superior to Japan’s  ISDB-T. 

Asked how NTT DoCoMo reacted to the NTC’s latest directive [to re-evaluate the ISDB and compare it with the European standard], TV5’s Espinosa said, “Our trials are meant for ISDB-T and we will simply compare the results with DVB.” 

NTT DoCoMo, he said, is in fact providing TV5 with valuable inputs. “NTT DoCoMo is providing us with their inputs on ISDB technology and implementation,” said Espinosa, who also sits on the board of directors of PLDT.

TV5 is under MediaQuest Holdings Inc., the holding company of  the PLDT retirement fund. PLDT is partly owned by NTT DoCoMo.

Industry prods NTC on rules

Earlier, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) had urged the NTC to speed up the issuance of the IRR.

Atom Henares, KBP’s TV committee chairman, had said the  migration to digital  “will not only give Filipinos a better viewing experience with superior clarity in image and sound, but also more choices on free-to-air tv.”

“It is important for NTC to already come out with the IRR because we are all trying to meet the deadline set to the Philippines by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU),” said Henares.  “If we keep on delaying the release of IRR just because a new standard is released, we will be left out. Technology is always evolving non-stop. We need to address the needs of the Filipinos now,” added Henares. 

ITU is the global body mandating countries to adopt a new digital TV standard. The Philippines is a member. Even developed countries like Japan and the United States took almost 1- years to fully roll out digital broadcasting. 

Free-TV or non-cable households account for 90 percent of the total 17 million TV households in the country. With digital TV, each existing TV frequency in the country can air up to eight free-tv channels each. This means the country could end up with 176 total channels from its existing 22 TV frequencies.

InterAksyon.com is the online news portal of TV5.

 

 

 

 

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