Cellphone television may come at a price

Cellphone subscribers wanting to watch television programmes on their phones be warned! You may have to fork out for a television licence for your device.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) will conduct research next year to determine whether cellphone users will require individual licences to have access to mobile television. The definition of a television set as contained in television licence legislation says: "Any device designed or adapted to be capable of receiving a broadcasting television signal."

The devices, including computers capable of receiving television broadcasts and now certain cellphones, require a television licence at up to R260 a year.

Last week, MTN introduced the country’s first cellphone television handsets or digital video broadcasting (DVB-H) cellphone.

The handset is part of the DVB-H testing that MTN and MultiChoice are running with 1 000 subscribers in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, until MultiChoice receives its subscription broadcasting licence.

Vodacom is also running DVB-H tests with MultiChoice. MultiChoice is among 18 consortiums, which also include Telkom Media, and Black Earth Communications, that have applied for a subscription broadcasting licence.

Mobile television has been touted as the next biggest value-added service in the constantly changing repertoire of the telecommunications and broadcasting industry.

Industry analysts predict that by 2010 more than 150 million people worldwide will be regular users of mobile broadcasting services.

South Africa has more than 32 million active SIM cards. The country also has an estimated 7.5 million television sets. Of these, 1.25 million are MultiChoice subscribers.

Public broadcaster SABC makes 19 percent of its total revenues of R3.9 billion from licence fees. SABC’s television licence fees revenue rose 30 percent to R739 million in the 2006 financial year. The SABC imposes a fine of R22 and R400 for those who default on licence payments.

However, analysts say in the converged world the line between telecommunications and broadcasting services will be blurred.

SABC’s spokesperson, Kaizer Kganyago, said that a separate licence would not be required for DVB-H or mobile television handsets if a person already had a licence for a television set.

Icasa’s acting general manager for broadcasting, Sipho Tsotetsi, said the regulator would conduct research next year before putting a regulatory framework on mobile television in place.

Rajay Ambekar, a portfolio manager at African Harvest, added that DVB-H was still new in South Africa and in its infancy worldwide.

But he said it was unlikely that Icasa would separate mobile television from other broadcasting mediums. This means that Icasa could review the broadcasting licence framework to include mobile television services.

Kganyago said amendments to broadcasting legislation were under consideration.

This includes an enhanced definition of a television set, which would make provision for any new or converged technologies.

But if Icasa decides not to impose licences on individual mobile television users, this is unlikely to affect the SABC as home television will remain the dominant form of viewing.

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Cellphone television may come at a price