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The Knesset Economics Committee is urging the Finance Ministry to launch a tender for an additional digital network platform that would give the public the option to receive local television channels for free without having to connect to cable or satellite packages.
"Today, citizens have to pay a high price to view state-owned and commercial TV network channels via cable or satellite packages," said MK Gilad Erdan, chairman of the Knesset Economics Committee. "The idea is that people who want to view channels 1, 2, 10, the Knesset Channel and the Education Channel would make a one-time payment of NIS 400 instead of having to sign up for cable packages forcing them to make monthly payments."
Today, having paid your TV licensing fee, you are not necessarily able to receive TV channels 1 and 2, the country's state-owned channels, if there is no over-the-air broadcast reception in the area or without putting up an antenna. As a result, many people are forced to pay for cable packages or invest in satellite dishes in order to view the channels, which are supposed to be available for free.
Already in August 2004, the government made a decision to establish an interministerial committee with the aim of erecting the necessary infrastructure by March 2006. In addition, the government determined in 2005 ahead of the 2006 budget that by January 1, 2007, these channels would be broadcasted digitally. But as of yet not even the tender has been launched.
The Economics Committee warned that if the Finance Ministry does not apply pressure for the tender to go ahead it would launch a private legislation bill requiring the cable and satellite networks to broadcast these channels for free. It demanded that the Finance Ministry submit a position paper by August 15, which is to include a timetable for the tender process and the establishment of the network infrastructure for the transmission of the free channels.
Udi Shushan, the Finance Ministry's representative attending the meeting at the Knesset Economics Committee on Wednesday said that today about 15 percent of the public were not connected to cable or satellite networks. He added that the Finance Ministry was ready to go ahead with the tender and was waiting for an agreement between the authorities.
"We welcome the establishment of a third platform on the condition that our commitments would be renewed such as allowing us the option of inserting advertisement into our broadcasts," said Ron Eilon, CEO of the Yes satellite television company.
Similarly HOT, the cable television company said it accepted the government's decision.
"However, what needs to be made clear by the government and the Knesset is that not today or in the future will there be an extension of the number of channels in the free package, otherwise we won't be able to survive," said David Chemnitz, CEO of HOT.
Separately, Erdan raised the controversial issue for the need of a change in the policy of sports broadcasts, which are monitored by the Council for Cable and Satellite Broadcasting, following complaint letters by the public.
"The multiplicity of sports channels in recent years is levying an economic burden on sports fans," said Erdan. "It is the council's function to guard the public's interest to get a sufficient basic content package without being exploited economically."
Erdan referred to the recent phenomenon whereby the Sports Channel (Channel five) - part of the basic cable or satellite package - diluted its content and moved some of it to the five+ channel, which is sold separately.
The rationale behind the basic package and its controlled price is that the largest possible share of the public - including those without money to spare - should be able to enjoy a variety of content.
Erdan ordered the council to discuss the issue and present its conclusions to the committee together with content specifications of the basic package as offered today compared with previous years.