Wanted: more free (and paid) TV

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) unveiled its plan on Friday (13 July 2012) to license new commercial free-to-air digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasters.

ICASA’s recently released draft DTT regulations suggest that the new broadcasters are to participate in what is known as the “dual illumination period”.

The dual illumination period is the time during which digital transmissions will be switched on, and before the old analogue TV broadcasts are shut down.

Minister of Communications Dina Pule previously said that South Africa’s DTT signal will be switched on in Q3 2012, with the Department of Communications later specifying “around September” as the target date.

A new switch-off date for South Africa’s analogue television broadcasts has yet to be specified, making it unclear exactly how long the dual illumination period will be.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has specified that analogue TV broadcasts will essentially no longer be protected from 17 June 2015, however.

Regardless of the length of the dual illumination period, ICASA’s draft DTT regulations allow for a number of new participants in the digital migration:

  • A subscription television service
  • Free-to-air commercial TV services
  • Commercial sound broadcasting services

Asked for clarification on their intent with the regulations, ICASA emphasised that the regulations do not deal with the period after analogue switch-off, when it is likely that more DTT Multiplexes will become available, offering more broadcasting capacity. “There will have to be a separate process of allocation then,” an ICASA spokesperson said, “depending on how much capacity is made available for broadcasting purposes after analogue switch-off.”

The licensing of a new free-to-air broadcaster for the dual-illumination period are subject to the conditions of an invitation to apply (ITA), ICASA explained. “This would involve an application for both a commercial television broadcasting service licence and a frequency spectrum licence,” ICASA said, adding that it is likely that they will hold an enquiry into the form the free-to-air licensing should take.

For example, should it be a full spectrum national service, single digital TV channels, or regional services? This enquiry would happen before the ITA is issued, ICASA said.

TopTV was asked whether it would be applying for a license to broadcast during the digital migration, but did not respond at the time of writing.

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Wanted: more free (and paid) TV