The Department of Communications (DoC) issued a statement today (15 January 2013) in which it said that a recent ruling of the South Gauteng High Court in favour of E-TV could delay South Africa’s digital migration by up to three years.
This comes after a meeting the DoC said it had yesterday with the SABC, E-TV, and “other free-to-air broadcasters”.
According to the DoC the meeting was held to consider the implications of implementing the South Gauteng High Court decision to grant broadcasters the right to control conditional access in State-subsidised set-top boxes (decoders), subject to ICASA’s authority.
“Such a scenario would mean that South Africa would only implement digital migration long after the International Telecommunication Union deadline of June 2015,” the DoC said.
Stakeholders will have to manage the set-top box (STB) control matter with “the necessary care and urgency” to avoid these severe delays, the DoC added.
E-TV initiated court action against the Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, when she assigned responsibility for the hotly debated STB control system for digital terrestrial television (DTT) to Sentech, rather than free-to-air broadcasters such as the SABC and E-TV.
According to E-TV, Pule had no mandate to make such a decision unilaterally, adding that it was understood that the administration of the STB Control system would reside with them and the SABC.
Among other things, STB Control is expected to prevent the use of the decoder-like STBs subsidised by the South African government outside the country.
Viewers that receive their TV signal through a normal roof antenna or “bunny ears” will have to get an STB to translate the new digital TV signal (using the DVB-T2 standard) into something existing analogue TVs can display.
The DoC said in its statement that the parties agreed yesterday to consider all options available in order to ensure a speedy implementation of the digital migration programme.
These discussions centred on finding ways that will deliver set-top-boxes to the market and deliver much needed jobs this year, the DoC said. Broadcasters agreed to make their independent recommendations to the DoC by 28 January 2013, the statement continued.
Among the proposals the parties are considering are ways of ensuring that the set-top-box manufacturing tender, which the DoC said is affected by the high court decision, is finalised without delay with due regard to the National Treasury regulations.
“The Department is committed to engaging the industry and is open to meeting the broadcasters at an earlier date should that be necessary,” the statement concluded.