Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim expects a continued fight over South Africa’s migration to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting, and it’s the decision on conditional access that is at the heart of the battle.
Among other things, conditional access is meant to prevent the use outside South Africa of decoder-like boxes (also known as STBs) that are subsidised by the state.
These STBs will be needed to receive the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal that is set to replace South Africa’s ageing analogue broadcasting standard.
Speaking to City Press, Carrim said that no matter how the conditional access issue is decided, someone will probably sue the government. Carrim is meeting with broadcasters in September 2013 to discuss the conditional access issue and hopefully arrive at a consensus on how the standard is to be implemented, if at all.
“As government, we accept our share of responsibility for the delays in digital migration, but unless we get a measure of consensus among the broadcasters and other contending parties, we aren’t going to be able to move swiftly forward,” said Carrim.
“Even in the most rapacious capitalist society, there are times when contending private sector parties find common ground that serves the common interest and what it does then create space for them to compete in the market for viewers and listeners,” said Carrim. “Sentech has already provided about 80% of the country with network for DTTV and intends to reach 84% by March . The remaining 16% will be serviced by satellite.”
“So we’re ready. We have enough money to begin the roll-out – not complete it, but if we get going we will have a strong case with the national treasury. The issue holding back DTTV is primarily, if not wholly, whether or not set-top boxes will enable conditional access, controlling which channels a viewer can access,” said Carrim.
“I think the [communications] department itself has reached the end of its own tether and wants to get things done, We’ve been in the public domain for the wrong reasons for too long,” said Carrim.
One of the benefits to completing the migration to DTT will be newly freed signal frequency spectrum (previously used for analogue broadcasts). This spectrum, known as “digital dividend”, is being eyed by the telecoms industry for the rollout of next-generation network technology such as 4G.