Consumer Watchdog says it fears that key lessons from the Borders are not being used to make future switchovers better
Scotland’s leading consumer watchdog says much more needs to be done to ensure that the remaining rollout of the Digital TV Switchover programme does not exacerbate the digital divide between those who have the youth, the skills and home address to take it in their stride – and others who haven’t.
As the digital TV switchover starts in Dumfries and Galloway this week, and as preparations begin for the north of Scotland switch next year, Consumer Focus Scotland says that, while the technical switch in the Borders was largely a smooth one, help for vulnerable people must remain the priority.
From July 2007, through switchover in November 2008 until the beginning of this year, over one hundred “digital diarists” in the Borders, many of them older and more vulnerable people, kept a log of their experiences of the switchover process to give an insight that went far beyond the official statistics.
In its final report on the switching off of analogue TV services across the Scottish Borders, Consumer Focus Scotland (CFS) says switchover managers, Digital UK, are in danger of missing some key lessons from the experience in the ITV Border region. The organisation is also calling on the UK Government to make sure that the “digital dividend” of selling freed-up spectrum space is reinvested in making sure that rural areas get the same TV services as everyone else.
The Head of Services and Advocacy at Consumer Focus Scotland, Trisha McAuley, says that underneath the surface of the generally positive experience that has been reported by Digital UK, there was a clear message from the diarists that many vulnerable consumers found the process a difficult one.
“There was a lot that Digital UK got right. It established a solid local presence in the Borders, worked hard and certainly achieved the target of everyone knowing that switchover was going to happen. But awareness is one thing and understanding of what’s involved is quite another. Our concern is that too much of the marketing material was too general and that a huge emphasis was placed on people going to their website which many older and less well-off people were not able to, or did not want to, access. And the help and support that was made available through the Digital Outreach project and the Switchover Help Scheme came too late in the day for many.”
CFS is particularly concerned that Digital UK has drawn conclusions from the Borders in terms of what sort of help people need to construct a one size fits all approach that cannot be assumed to be right for either remote and island communities or, indeed, inner city urban areas. CFS says this has clear implications for the STV North region which will switch in 2010, followed by STV Central which will switch shortly after.
Trisha McAuley says “We are disappointed that while Digital UK’s report on the first switch in Cumbria was a detailed and in-depth 100-page review which extensively considered the different issues involved, the Borders evaluation report was far less detailed and less than ten pages long. There are few details of how the views of consumers were taken into account in measuring success. This is crucial for learning lessons and improving things for consumers the next time round.
“But the biggest divide in the Borders was in the fact that 47 per cent of homes, served by relay transmitters, can only get half of the available channels – something that many diarists regarded as discriminating against them for living in more rural places. At the very least, Digital UK needs to make it entirely clear how switchover will affect the rest of rural Scotland in relation to the choice of new services that will be available. We also think it is only fair that some of the “digital dividend” of selling freed-up spectrum space is reinvested in making sure that rural areas get the same TV services as everyone else, or that some of the emerging underspend in the Switchover Help Scheme budget that is being diverted to the Digital Britain project makes its way back to the Borders so that everyone has access to the full range of TV channels either through transmitter upgrades or the rollout of new and faster broadband.”
The Report Recommendations include:
Digital UK should:
- Provide more information, including “how to” guides, in more formats and with less reliance on its website – and say from the start if some areas are going to get more channels than others;
- Measure understanding as well as awareness and start outreach work sooner;
- Work with local business and support organisations to encourage trusted local retailers to become accredited equipment and advice providers;
- Avoid assuming that the experience in the Borders allows a one size fits all approach from now on.
The UK Government should:
- Work with its Help Scheme provider to start the scheme sooner and to allow more people to be eligible for it;
- Use the proceeds of auctioning digital spectrum to reinvest in rural broadband;
- Set up a Consumer Expert Group specifically for Scotland to recognise specific needs that may not be addressed by a single UK body;
- Work closely and transparently with the Scottish Government to ensure that switchover adds social and economic value to consumers in Scotland.
Notes for Editors
Consumer Focus Scotland was formed through the merger of three organisations – the Scottish Consumer Council, energywatch Scotland, and Postwatch Scotland.
Consumer Focus Scotland is rooted in over 30 years of work promoting the interests of consumers, particularly those who experience disadvantage in society. We work for consumers in aspects of their lives: as council tenants, householders, patients, parents, solicitors’ clients, public transport users, bank depositors and borrowers, postal service users and as shoppers.
We identify issues of concern within various markets; engage and develop policy through research and speaking to everyone involved; campaign for change; and inform consumers about what’s going on. Consumer Focus Scotland has new powers to research and investigate issues and consumer complaints, to publish information that providers hold and, ultimately, present a “supercomplaint” about failing services.
Document Download: Digital Diaries: Review of the Scottish Borders Digital TV Switchover Size: [1874 KB] File Type: [.pdf]