The SABC is pushing for new regulations that would require South African cellphone users to pay TV Licence fees.
Speaking in an interview with MyBroadband, SABC Head of TV Licences Sylvia Tladi confirmed the SABC’s recent request for new regulations regarding TV Licences.
This follows after the public broadcaster said to parliament that new regulations are required to require users who watch content on devices such as smartphones to pay TV Licence fees.
Tladi told MyBroadband a process is underway to review policies and legislation that affects the SABC.
As part of this process, the SABC wants to expand the definition of a television set to include devices such as set-top boxes and smartphones.
“One of the key things that we needed to deal with was the definition of the television set because once you have defined what a television set is, you move on to identifying whether a licence is required or not.”
“We are of the view that currently people are no longer just consuming content or broadcasting services on a traditional TV,” she said.
“What we are asking for is for the definition to be amended so that it can also include other devices that are not traditionally built to look like television sets but are used to receive broadcasting services for content, whatever platforms people use to consume content.”
Examples of devices which the SABC wants to include under this definition are Android streaming boxes that connect to TVs and cellphones, she said.
SABC allowed to charge for mobile licence
When asked about the motivation for requiring TV Licence compliance by smartphone or laptop users, Tladi explained that consumers have previously been able to buy laptops and separate tuner hardware which allowed them to receive broadcast signals.
“We are not saying that just by virtue of you buying that laptop you are now required to have a TV licence,” she said.
“What we are saying is any device that will enable you to watch broadcasting, whatever it is, will require a TV Licence.”
Tladi added that there is already provision for the SABC to charge for a mobile licence under current broadcasting regulations.
“Our regulations currently already provide for us to charge for a mobile licence. It is just part of the regulations that the SABC did not fully explore and even when we did, it wasn’t a big thing in South Africa,” she said.
“It was quite big during the 2010 World Cup because that is when people went out and bought smartphones because they wanted to watch soccer on their phones, and then it died down.”
“However, our legislation already provides for a mobile licence, which means the SABC can actually consider the device you are using to be a television receiving a signal and charge you for that,” she said.
Despite this enforcement not taking off, Tladi said that by virtue of its inclusion in the current regulations, it may lead to more precise regulations around smartphones going forward.
It is important to note that these proposals by the SABC are currently in very early stages.
These potential changes to regulations must be debated before parliament, concretely defined, and then made available for public comment before they are propagated further towards becoming law.
This is not the first time the SABC has proposed that TV licence fees be incurred by smartphone users, with former SABC CEO James Aguma telling parliament in 2017 that the definition should be changed to include cellphones, computers, and tablets.