Digital TV in SA: “We dare not let our people down,” says minister

The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, has set himself two new deadlines involving South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

“By the end of the month, the final [broadcasting digital migration] policy, which had been subject to public consultation, will be gazetted,” Cwele said.

“Within three months we will designate the date of the start of the digital switch-on,” he added.

Cwele made the commitment during his budget vote speech, and his statements follow a war of words between MultiChoice and former Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim over so-called “set-top box (STB) control”.

MultiChoice is wholly opposed to the idea of STB Control, which may require that South Africa’s free-to-air channels be encrypted, while E-tv stands in support of STB control.

To try and resolve the conflict by choosing the “least bad” option, Carrim brought an amendment to the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) Policy before Cabinet towards the end of 2013, which was approved.

The amendment allows for broadcasters to decide for themselves whether they want to use encryption or not, while stating that the STBs (decoder-like boxes) subsidised by government will make use of a control mechanism.

This is to prevent those STBs subsidised by government that are meant to go to the poorest households in the country from being used outside South Africa.

Broadcasters that wish to make use of the STB control system will have to pay government to do so.

“There is no doubt that our digital migration process has faced many challenges,” Cwele said.

“The June 2015 deadline [which South Africa agreed upon with the ITU] looms before us and we dare not let our people down,” he added.

Cwele said that designating the switch-on date for South Africa’s DTT signal will allow the industry, manufacturers, and TV-owning households to prepare for the migration.

“The ring-fenced budget for Broadband Digital Migration is R2.97 billion,” Cwele said.

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Digital TV in SA: “We dare not let our people down,” says minister