Set-top boxes will have control system: Minister

Cabinet has approved the digital migration amendment policy which will see an access control system included in television set-top boxes, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi said on Thursday.

“It will protect the government investment in set-top boxes (STBs) so that the box cannot be used outside the boundaries of South Africa,” Muthambi told reporters following Cabinet’s fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.

She said the boxes would be provided free to more than five million households, who would be identified using the national means test.

This decision would again delay the deadline for analogue switch-off, although migration to digital would start as planned on June 17.

“The mere fact that we are now subsidising all the five million poor TV households, it is towards that realisation to say that you need everybody to make arrangements.

“So as government Cabinet has given us the policy to say we need to start with the switch-on and then having assembled the team, if it is all systems go, we will be able to go to Cabinet and announce the switch-off date.”

The announcement spells the end of a long wrangle over whether to include a control system. Muthambi initially argued against control, but the ANC earlier this year made it clear that it disagreed.

Update: Following the publication of this article, MultiChoice provided MyBroadband with the following comment.

MultiChoice said that Muthambi clarified that the STB Control system would comprise only of a security feature to prevent boxes from being used outside South Africa, and will not include conditional access or encryption.

Multichoice has noted the announcement by Cabinet today on the Broadcasting Digital Migration Amendment Policy. We welcome the clarification by the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, at today’s post-Cabinet media briefing that the control system in set-top boxes will be a security feature only, and will not include conditional access or encryption. We await publication of the final policy.

The South African Communications Forum has also issued a statement commending Cabinet for the decision.

“Most of the ICT industry is breathing a sigh of relief that this decision is finally being taken and hopes that we can speedily begin implementation,” said SACF CEO Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha. “We were especially encouraged to note that the Government will be providing free set top boxes to the poorest South Africans as this will help tremendously in moving the project forward. It is now impossible to meet the June 2015 ITU deadline for completion – and now at least we will be in a position to launch within this year.”

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Set-top boxes will have control system: Minister