Digital TV deadline may be missed in SA

The migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) may not be finished by the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union.

This is the word from deputy director general of the Department of Communications (DoC), Themba Phiri, who was reporting on South Africa’s readiness for digital TV to parliament on Tuesday (27 November 2012).

He told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications that South Africa could launch DTT commercially by June 2013, but if they stick to a three-year roll-out period for the whole project, the ITU deadline may be missed.

Phiri went to great lengths to detail how the DoC has the necessary plans in place: from a roll-out plan for decoder-like set-top boxes (STBs) to Sentech’s coverage being on track.

However, in spite of everything being in place South Africa might still miss the ITU deadline, was the message from Phiri.

The reason for the delay, Phiri stated diplomatically, is court action taken against Minister Pule by E-TV for her decision to appoint Sentech as the administrator of the so-called “set-top box control” system.

“I must say that the timelines with regards to the delivery of the project have been affected by some of the legal processes that are in the courts,” Phiri told parliament.

Dina Pule and DTT
Dina Pule and DTT

DA outlines stumbling blocks

In a press statement issued on Thursday (29 November 2012), Democratic Alliance shadow minister of communications, Butch Steyn, said the biggest stumbling to meeting the deadlines were:

  • There is still no coherent plan, with timelines indicating what needs to be done, by whom and by when;
  • The clear lack of coordination between the entities, and although the department has established a Project Management Office, it does not seem to be up and running;
  • The migration and spectrum regulations have not yet been finalised by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa;
  • The total funding required has not been ring-fenced and in many instances will lead to delays even if the planning improves. The Department has also not yet determined how many people will be eligible for subsidised Set-Top-Boxes (STB’s) – a figure which will have serious funding implications.

“The DTT rollout has already suffered several setbacks over the past five years and any more delays are unacceptable,” Steyn said.

ITU deadline for DTT: what does it mean?

It’s worth noting that normal analogue TV signals won’t stop working when the ITU deadline of June 2015 is reached.

Broadcasting industry players have previously explained that the ITU have just proposed mechanisms to minimise cross-border interference of TV signals.

However, the sooner the migration to digital broadcasting is completed, the sooner precious frequency spectrum known as the “digital dividend” may be released for use by network operators.

Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and 8ta have all indicated that the digital dividend would aid in the roll-out of high speed technologies such as Long Term Evolution (LTE), as well as the roll out of wireless broadband services to rural South Africa.

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Digital TV deadline may be missed in SA