SABC wants to inspect Sentech’s digital decoder installations

The SABC is appointing independent inspectors to double-check the number and quality of government-subsidised set-top-box (STB) installations around the country, The Sunday Times reports.

The publication spotted the broadcaster’s tender inviting companies to bid for conducting physical inspections of STB installations to confirm whether the work was completed correctly and that the boxes could receive the SABC’s digital channels.

These decoder-like STBs are necessary for households with no satellite TV and older television sets that don’t have built-in digital tuners, as South Africa switches off old analogue TV signals province-by-province.

State-owned signal distributor Sentech is currently on an aggressive installation drive across the country, aiming to install STBs in all qualifying households that registered before 31 October 2021.

This was the deadline government proclaimed for those who wished to get their box before the original 31 March 2022 analogue switch-off date.

Industry regulator Icasa and the Pretoria High Court have delayed this date to 30 June 2022.

Indigent households who qualify for the box must have a combined income of less than R3,500.

So far, Sentech has switched off the SABC’s analogue TV transmissions in five provinces. However, the four most populous provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape remain outstanding.

The SABC has to authorise Sentech to switch off any of its analogue transmitters.

However, it currently has no “second layer or independent checks” to ensure good quality of service and accuracy of numbers.

The inspectors will also be required to remain in the area and determine whether Sentech’s installers are still available to connect households that may have been left behind.

In addition, they will be required to conduct surveys of 5% of qualifying households with questions that include the following:

  • Why are registrations low or high?
  • Has there been an awareness campaign?
  • Have there been installers in your area?
  • Where did you register, and when did you find out?
  • Is the quality of service acceptable?
  • How was your migration experience?

The SABC’s executive for corporate affairs and marketing, Gugu Ntuli, told The Sunday Times the broadcaster was not second-guessing Sentech’s work.

It only wanted assurances on the quantity and quality of STB connections as these factors could significantly impact audience losses where analogue switch-off takes place.

The SABC, free-to-air broadcaster E-tv, and community TV stations like Cape Town TV rely on analogue broadcasts to reach a substantial proportion of their viewers.

E-tv and Cape Town TV have expressed concern over leaving these viewers behind when the national switch-off occurs.

E-tv took communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni to court, hoping to delay the switch-off by 15–18 months.

Although the court delayed the switch-off by three months, much of the rest of E-tv’s application failed. The court ruled that government had given indigent households enough time and notice to register for their boxes.

Registration for subsidised STBs was initially opened in October 2015.

Slow rollout

The SABC intends to inspect the installations amid a slow STB rollout.

Ntshavheni recently said that just over half of the 507,251 households registered by the deadline of 31 October 2021 had received their STBs by 25 April 2022, while installations had taken place at only 109,000 homes.

The first STB installations were done in December 2015, which means it took the government more than six years to distribute them.

Based on the minister’s figures, Sentech would have to radically pick up the pace and distribute around 3,700 STBs per day from 26 April 2022 to meet the ASO target of 30 June 2022. Daily installations will have to be almost double that figure.

Sentech is on an aggressive recruitment campaign to hire more STB installers. According to its advertisement, these installers will be rolling out STBs over the course of the next year.

The minister’s Twitter timeline shows that she has been personally involved in several installations in recent weeks.

Now read: DStv only has space for 11 more channels — if it cuts four from E-tv

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SABC wants to inspect Sentech’s digital decoder installations