Set-top boxes explained

Is the government-funded set-top box really new? The 2011/12 Federal Budget delivered continued funding for the Household Assistance Scheme to provide eligible pensioners with a free set-top box. As this is already in operation, it seems strange that the announcement provoked such political backlash.

The Household Assistance Scheme provides a fully installed set-top box, with one-on-one instruction on how to use it and a digital aerial if required, to those who qualify. The estimated cost of this provision is $350 but when Gerry Harvey claims he can provide the same service for half this cost, is the Federal Government guilty of being wasteful with taxpayers’ money?

Not so, is the response from Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy. By factoring in the need to train, approve and monitor those installing the set-top boxes, the initial low cost of the set-top box is only part of the package.

But if Gerry Harvey can do it for half the $350, then why not pay his company to do it and save money?

Consideration should be given to the fact that a large proportion of those receiving the set-top boxes will be vulnerable, either through age, disability, sight problems, hearing problems or mental health issues. Such sections of the community need the assurance of a government backed and approved contractor, rather than some random installer from a third party provider.

Of course, the pink batt installation debacle is still fresh in many people’s minds and there is doubt that such a program will be properly managed by the Federal Government. It should be noted that the Household Assistance Scheme is already underway and, without evidence to the contrary, seems to be working well.