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Netherlands is First Nation with All Digital TV

The Associated Press reports that the Netherlands ended transmission of 'free to air' broadcast analog television on December 11, 2006 -- thereby becoming the first nation to switch completely to all digital TV signals.

Few Dutch consumers noticed, because the overwhelming majority receive TV via a cable service provider. Only around 74,000 households relied primarily on TV antennas in this country of 16 million people, although 220,000 consumers had an 'occasional use' TV set somewhere such as in a vacation house, camper or boat, according to the Dutch government figures.

The bandwidth formerly used by analog has been licensed through 2017 by former telecommunications company Royal KPN NV, which will use it to broadcast digital television. Under its agreement with the government, KPN bore the cost of building digital broadcasting masts and must continue to broadcast three state-supported channels and several regional public broadcasters free of charge.

In return, it can use the rest of the open spectrum to charge around $18.50 a month for a package of other channels that is comparable with cable TV. Whether customers opt for just the free channels or a full cable-like package, they must first buy a tuner box to decode the new 'digital terrestrial' signals, available for around $66.50 at retail.

Governments around the world are gradually making the switch to digital, with some Scandinavian countries and Belgium targeting a 2007 switch-off date for analog broadcasts. The target is 2009 in the United States, and 2011 in Japan.

Last year, it was estimated that 21 million U.S. households do not subscribe to cable or satellite pay-TV service, and rely solely on free over-the-air broadcast analog TV. Consumers Union estimated an additional 20 million homes that have cable or satellite pay-TV do not have all of their TV sets hooked up to the service and therefore would need digital converter boxes.

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