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Cablegate: Lessons Learned From Finland's Conversion To

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STATE FOR EEB/CIP/BA WHITNEY WITTEMAN
FCC FOR TRACEY WEISLER
COMMERCE FOR NATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION
ADMINISTRATION (NTIA) / CHRISTINA SPECK

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECPS FI
SUBJECT: LESSONS LEARNED FROM FINLAND'S CONVERSION TO
DIGITAL TELEVISION


1. (U) On September 1, 2007 Finland became one of the first
countries in the world to broadcast all television signals
digitally. Econoff recently sat down with Mr. Tauno Aijala,
Project Manager of the switch-over at the Ministry of
Transport and Communications, to gather best practices from
an early adopter of digital television.

2. (U) Although Finland originally began broadcasting digital
television signals in 2001, nearly fifty percent of Finnish
households received analog terrestrial television broadcasts
until a few months before the switch-over to digital
transmissions last fall. Despite being a large country
geographically by European standards and sparsely populated
in many regions, over 99.999 percent of the Finnish public
now has access to digital television broadcasts. An early
adopter, Finland is well ahead of the EU mandate that all
television broadcasts be digital by 2012.

3. (U) The digital television discussion has had a lengthy
history in Finland, dating back to 1996 when the GOF issued
its "resolution on digitalization". Following a series of
milestones, the Finnish Parliament determined that all
analogue television transmissions would cease by August 31,
2007. Although Finland is a technically savvy country, there
was some measured opposition and resentment of the impending
transition, particularly from the country's senior citizens.
Working with key stakeholders such as TV stations, equipment
manufacturers and key retailers, the GOF organized a major
information campaign to educate and inform people about the
digital switch-over. The stakeholders also funded a free
"Digi-TV Info" helpdesk that has fielded over 100,000 calls
to date. The GOF worked with local service organizations,
such as the Lions Club, to provide assistance for those
needing extra installation help.

4. (U) Preferring to use a carrot rather than a stick, the
GOF accentuated the positive aspects of the switch-over
including clearer transmissions and increasing the number of
free channels from five to twelve. The digital conversion
also made possible additional options for subtitling (Finland
is a dual-language country), voice subtitling (reading the
subtitles in foreign language programming), an Electronic
Program Guide (EPG) and digital teletext services. However,
unlike the planned U.S. conversion to digital television in
February 2009, Finland did not offer any subsidies for the
set-top boxes required to receive digital television.

5. (U) Finland has reallocated the frequency band previously
used for analogue television into nine multiplexes.
Currently four of the nine multiplexes are allocated for
digital television broadcasts, including one multiplex for
television broadcasts to mobile devices. The remaining four
have yet to be allocated; many propose using themfor
additional wireless services or to support eergency response
communications.

6. (U) Critic of the innish conversion to digital continue
t bemoan the fact that current broadcasts and many f the
set-top boxes are not HDTV-ready. Hence, inns will have to
endure another migration before true HDTV broadcasts will be
supported. Also, Finland's tight multiplex bandwidth
allocation will further complicate the eventual move to HDTV.
Likewise, many cite the lack of support for Multimedia Home
Platform (MHP), something that was originally promised in the
move to digital transmissions. Rather than supporting
interactive TV through interoperable middleware, Finnish
broadcasters instead are relying on SMS text messaging and
Internet sites to provide the "interactive" component. While
this approach has been quite successful in Finland, many
tech-savvy Finns still say dropping support MHP was
shortsighted.

7. (U) Lessons Learned from an Early Adopter:
=============================================
Mr. Aijala created a brief outline for interested parties
highlighting Finnish best practices in the transition to
digital TV. This document, entitled "Learning by Doing", has
been shared with other EU countries converting to digital
broadcasts. Below is a partial list of his suggestions, with
Embassy edits added in brackets.

BEGIN TEXT
1. Create a brand image by using a famous actor or animated
figure to promote digitalization.
2. Use only a few key points in promotions: new channels, new

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content, better quality of sounds and picture, Electronic
Program Guide.
3. Only use the carrot. Don't threaten with a black screen.
Keep on talking about the advantages of the new services.
4. Hire an experienced spokesman with a TV-background (to
lead the project). Strong connections to the media companies
are needed.
5. Create a panel of experts representing the (appropriate
government) ministry, TV-channels, the distributors of the
TV-channels, the regulatory authorities, the consumer agency,
the cable TV companies, wholesalers and retailers. Gather
and distribute information (extensively). Use everyone's
expertise.
6. Create a single taskforce to coordinate all aspects of the
switch (over). The group needs to have power to make
decisions and its own budget.
7. National and local information services are needed to
inform the consumer on proper aerial (antenna) and where to
direct it.
8. Meet the nation. Organize roadshows to visit cities.
People have many questions and opinions (to share).
9. Set up a Digi-TV Info hotline three years before the
digital switch-over. (It should be) financed by all actors
in the digital TV business, including wholesalers (and
product manufactures).
10. A neutral organization is needed to test and approve
(local compatibility of) set-top boxes.
11. Make sure there are enough set-top boxes available with a
variety of features and in all price ranges.
12. Voluntary organizations are willing to help the elderly
people install their boxes.
13. Research (market) penetration, (consumer) attitudes,
(product) reliability and price ranges.
14. Make the decisions concerning (broadcast) frequencies on
time. Terrestrial network operators need time (to prepare
systems).
END TEXT

8. (U) Comment: Mr. Aijala candidly shared insightful
comments about areas in which Finland could have improved its
implementation. He will soon be traveling to a number of
countries to share best practices from Finland's conversion
to digital broadcasting, and he has expressed willingness to
visit with interested parties in the U.S. in the future.
Econoff has a series of presentations in digital format that
are available to interested parties (contact
lewisgk@state.gov). End comment.
HYATT

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