DoC plans to fast-track digital television rollout

Communications Minister Dina Pule presented her budget vote speech to parliament on 21 May 2013, stating that “We have taken a decision to review the policy on the [set-top box] STB control system as one way of fast tracking the rollout of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) to make this system non-mandatory.”

A set-top-box (STB) will be needed to receive the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal. The goal is to get 8 million STBs into households by the end of 2015. The SA government plans to subsidise at least five million STBs.

Initially, the plan was to implement an STB control system to prevent the use of subsidised STBs outside of South Africa. The DoC wound up in court over its decision to have state-owned broadcaster Sentech handle the administering of South Africa’s STB control system. E-tv successfully argued that free-to-air broadcasters such as E-tv and SABC should have control over the conditional access system.

Shelving the STB control system policy will mean that an industry hurdle can be side-stepped and the STB manufacturing strategy can go forward. This will be a big step toward South Africa coming close to meeting the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) global analogue TV switch-off date of June 2015.

However, the DoC’s deputy director-general, Themba Phiri is not optimistic about meeting this deadline, and was previously reported as saying that the government would have to negotiate with the ITU to protect its analog broadcast network after the 2015 deadline.

“We are ready to implement the Set-Top Box (STB) manufacturing strategy which requires 30 percent local content as part of the electronic industry development,” said Pule during her budget vote speech. “In June 2013, we shall launch the STB compliance lab in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry and the SA Bureau of Standards. We have also finalised the subsidy plan for poor households supported by qualifying criteria.”

Touching on other goals along the path to digital television in SA, Pule said that ICASA has finalised the [digital terrestrial television (DTT)] broadcasting regulations, and she will shortly be releasing a notice in the Government Gazette setting the performance period for digital migration switch on.

Pule said that the “DTT transmission network roll out target of 84% population coverage via terrestrial transmitters will be reached by December 2013.” Currently, the DTT network covers 80 percent of the population said Pule.

For areas not covered by terrestrial transmitters, state-owned broadcaster Sentech will launch a Direct-To-Home satellite broadcasting service later this year. “This service will provide TV and radio coverage to the Square Kilometre Array and all other areas where there is no DTT signal,” said Pule.

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DoC plans to fast-track digital television rollout