France: Digital 'Switch-off' Tests to Begin

Coulommiers, a town near Paris, will serve as the test site for France's first analog "switch-off" starting this week and will last for the next three months, according to a calendar for the transition created by the French government.

The goal of the government is to afford the nation's entire population the ability to access terrestrial digital TV—a national transition that officially gets underway next May. After the current testing in Coulommiers, a second test is schedule for the city of Kaysersberg in the Alsace region.

Unlike the February switch in the United States, the French transition will be done in stages across the country over several months. The Cherbourg region will not start its digital switchover until near the end of 2009, to be followed by France's Western and Eastern regions. The switch-off likely will not be fully implemented until early- to mid-2010.

The Sarkozy government plans to invest nearly $275 million in digital switch-off over the next three years—with an additional $125 million to be set aside in order to send "digital ambassadors" to aid low-income households, according to various French news Web sites.

The French broadcast industry also plans to kick in about $150 million for the transition, courtesy of several networks such as TF1, France 2, France 3 and Canal+.