Israeli television viewers will soon be able to receive a basic package of free digital-quality broadcasts of 18 channels.

The Communications Ministry together with the Treasury are planning to triple the number of basic free-to-air channels from five to 18 that consumers can receive via the Idan Plus decoder in an effort to lower the price level in the multichannel television market.

“The expansion of the Idan Plus services is a necessity to enable the public to receive a free package of quality channels and to reduce prices in the multichannel television market,” Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon said Thursday in a joint statement.

In August 2009, Israel launched Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services to receive free-to-air channels via a decoder. The launch enables viewers to receive free digital-quality broadcasts of five channels: two channels from the public broadcaster IBA for Channel 1 and Channel 33; two commercial ones on Channel 2 and Channel 10; and the Knesset Channel. The DTT decoders can be bought at electrical appliance and computer stores starting at NIS 400.

In the first stage, all national radio channels, Channel 23 (education), Channel 9, Channel 24 (music) and Channel 1 in high-definition resolution will be added to the five current channels. In the second stage, more channels will be added, including one in Arabic, a news channel and a heritage channel. The ministries said the proposal would be presented for approval to the government on Sunday.

The introduction of free DTT services comes against the background of the country’s concentrated pay-TV market, which operates as a duopoly between cable operator HOT and satellite operator Yes. The DTT converters give viewers access to some Israeli channels in high-definition broadcast without having to commit to any monthly fees to satellite or cable TV providers and without being subjected to a subscription period.

“Most developed countries offer broad digital broadcasting services that are free and open to the public,” the ministries said. “The level of competition in the multichannel television market in Israel and the level of prices justify an expansion of free broadcasting channels that are open to the public.”

In 2008, the Communications Ministry adopted recommendations from the Gronau Committee, which addressed key issues on competition in the communications market and concluded that the level of prices in the market were high compared with other countries.

The average price for a package in Israel is NIS 196 a month with a commitment period of two years.

“The duopoly created in the local TV market does not offer the consumer the array of possibilities the consumer has in other countries around the world,” the Gronau Committee said in its report. “The lack of competitors in the multi-television market is reflected in the price the consumer is paying for cable TV and satellite services.

“In general, the Israeli consumer does not have the freedom to choose the number of channels in a TV package, and more specifically, there is no possibility to choose a basic package of 10 to 20 channels at a lower price. Similarly, the consumer cannot purchase the decoder separately to reduce monthly usage fees.”

Since the situation has not changed since 2008, it was necessary to advance the proposal so that the public will be able to receive a free basic-channel package via DTT converters, as is customary in most developed countries around the world, the ministries said.

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