New digital TV regulations: use it or lose it

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) published new regulations for digital terrestrial television (DTT) in Government Gazette no. 37929 on Friday, 22 August 2014.

These new regulations, entitled “Promotion of Diversity and Competition on Digital Terrestrial Television Regulations” appear to be largely the same as their original draft which was published on 14 December 2012 in Government Gazette no. 35998.

In brief, they lay down how frequency spectrum not already set aside for use by the SABC, E-tv, and M-Net will be made available to broadcasters who wish to offer DTT channels.

Spectrum for DTT is split into chunks called “multiplexes” (or “mux” for short), with the additional capacity dealt with in the new regulations falling under Multiplex 3.

One of the differences between the final regulations and the draft is that the capacity of Multiplex 3 will be allocated as follows:

  • 45% to go to one or more commercial subscription TV licensees
  • 55% to be assigned to one or more commercial free-to-air TV broadcasters

Previously, the split was 40/40, with the 20% left over set aside for new community television licensees.

Instead of offering capacity in Mux 3 to community TV, Icasa has introduced a new regulation that would let them assign unused community TV spectrum in Mux 1 to the community broadcasters that need it.

Community broadcasters will be invited to apply for the spectrum in Mux 1.

Permission to broadcast channels

The regulations also explain the procedure broadcasters will have to follow to get written permission for any channels they wish to broadcast.

Icasa expanded on the 2012 draft regulations by including a list of items the application must contain:

  1. The name of the proposed channel
  2. The primary languages of the channel
  3. A programming plan
  4. The country where the channel was packaged
  5. The full name of the channel supplier
  6. Any other related information that may be required

Icasa has given itself 60 days to respond to applications. If Icasa doesn’t respond in time, the channel is automatically authorised.

Use it or lose it

The “use it or lose it” clauses proposed in the 2012 draft have persisted into Icasa’s final regulations.

Under these regulations, any capacity a broadcaster doesn’t use within 36 months of it being assigned will be forfeited.

SABC, E-tv, and M-Net face similar regulations for the capacity they have been assigned in Multiplex 1 and 2 under the final Digital Migration Regulations which were published on 14 December 2012.

Penalties

Other noteworthy regulations that made it from the draft to the final version are the stiff penalties Icasa will impose on broadcasters that contravene the regulations.

Icasa reserves the right to impose a fine not exceeding R500,000 under the following circumstances:

  1. For using unauthorised broadcasting standards (DVB-T2 using MPEG–4 compression is the approved standard)
  2. For using its capacity for anything other than its authorised TV channels, radio channels, or data services
  3. For broadcasting unauthorised channels

A fine of R200,000 or less may be imposed for contravening any other regulation.

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New digital TV regulations: use it or lose it