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Analog TV broadcasts came to end in Japan Sunday

Date Posted: 2011-07-29

After 58 years, analog television broadcasting in Japan came to an end, with exception of in three earthquake and tsunami devastated prefectures.

The changeover to digital television broadcasting has been in the planning stages since first being announced in 2003. Only Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures are still receiving analog television signals, which government officials say will remain on air until March 2012.

Analog television screens went blank at midnight Sunday, leaving the government hotlines with tens of thousands of complaint calls. Although consumers have been racing to appliance stores in recent months to buy digital televisions, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry says that as many as 700,000 households across Japan still are without digital televisions, tuners or antennas. Special ‘digital support centers’ to answer questions about what types tuners are necessary, and how to operate remote controllers for digital-capable television sets, have been established by the ministry.

In Okinawa, “there were about 10,000 ~ 20,000 households that have not dealt with digital broadcasting,” says the Okinawa Combined Communications Operations Office. The Digital Broadcasting Support Center estimates that expemptions of license fees, and households with tax exemptions in Okinawa totals about 200,000. Some 17,000 of thouse households have received new tuners for free. The government says about 16,000 tax exempt households used the system which provided support capital of ¥12,000 to buy new television equipment.

Elderly citizens are among the highest category of Japanese frustrated by the transition to the digital TV signals. Officials say older Japanese rank highest among those calling the hotline at 0570-07-0101. The ministry’s 24-hour hotline is handling all inquiries about digital television signals and problems. The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association estimates there are 80 million analog television sets that are now useless.

And that’s the nation’s other big problem: what to do about the millions of now-worthless television sets. Illegal dumping is already prevalent throughout many parts of the country, leading the government and local organizations teaming up to find ways to get safely get rid of the analog televisions. A sign along a forest road in Wakayama Prefecture is urging passers by to “Use your cell phone camera to shoot the license plate of illegal dumpers, and you’ll become eligible to draw for a free vacation in Okinawa!”

The obsolete televisions are both an eyesore and an environmental nightmare. Glass in the monitors of CRT televisions contain lead, a toxic substance. Televisions left outside in the rain could cause pollution of soil and ground water. Two years ago, the nation’s 49 recycling and disassembly plants for discarded televisions processed 9.21 million TV sets; last year the figure jumped to 15.6 million, and there are still millions of old television sitting around.

Some analog model televisions, mostly with screens of less than 20”, are being exported for re-use in other countries that use the same NTSC format as Japan. Many are being exported to the Philippines, Myanmar and Peru, says one official. “They sell for between ¥300-400 per unit, with a margin less than ¥100 per set,” says one exporter. “There’s no money to be made, but the old televisions keep coming, so we don’t have any other choice but to ship them.”

Illegal dumping is rampant, according to government officials, and the dumping isn’t being confined to rural areas. In Nagoya City, the environmental section says people have been dumping analog televisions along streets in entertainment districts, at refuse pick-up points, and along sidewalks. That trend is reported increasing across the nation.

“When disassembly and recycling plants can’t keep up with manufacturer requests,” says a Kansai trash collector, “they subcontract the overflow to companies like us.” He sayd “since they want to avoid high warehousing charges for televisions more have been coming to us, and business has picked up quite a bit since last year.” The problem is also impacting retail sales.

One Tokyo appliance dealer spoke for many in saying “nearly all customers who buy a new digital model request their old television be discarded, but the transport companies say their storage facilities are filled and won’t support us, so we have to turn down the customer requests.” What customers are doing with the obsolete televisions, he says, is anybody’s guess.

Government officials are now estimating that 31.2 million analog units are floating around the country now, obsolete but in working conditions. They say some may still be usable with analog-to-digital converters, but note that the converters are proving to be sold out or otherwise unavailable. On Okinawa, consumers report the converter boxes are totally sold out for the moment.

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