SA’s R2.4-billion set-top box project has stalled

Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan has said that, while Cabinet approved R2.4 billion for the procurement of 5 million set top boxes, the project has been delayed.

In delivering his medium-term budget, Gordhan said that the said amount “did not take into account the costs of the acquisition of antennas and installations of the boxes. This has resulted in significant delays in the project, and nothing has been achieved to date”.

South Africa is in the process of migrating from analogue broadcasts to digital terrestrial television (DTT), but the minister said that a further delaying factor “has been the as yet unresolved legal dispute between the Department of Communications and free to air broadcaster e-tv about set top box control”.

A STB is a decoder-like box that will allow TV viewers to use their existing analogue TV sets to receive the new DVB-T2 digital TV signal. This is set to replace South Africa’s aging analogue terrestrial broadcasting standard.

It is believed that as many as 11 million households would need a decoder in order to keep up with the new digital viewing standard, with the state saying it would subsidise up to 70% of the cost of the boxes for approximately five million homes.

In August, new communications minister Yunus Carrim delivered a detailed list of the projects, with deadlines, to parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications which his department would focus on up to the 2014 elections.

Citing the beginning the Roll-Out of Digital Migration, Carrim said:

“The major stumbling block to progress are the disputes about whether the Set Top Boxes (STBs) should have “Control” or not. We have met the contending parties separately and have encouraged them to meet together, but there has not been much progress. We have therefore decided to bring the contending parties together by mid-September with a consensually agreed facilitator who combines technical expertise and negotiating skills to, under the broad supervision of the Ministry, work towards consensus on STB issues.

“Yes, 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 are not going to be able to move swiftly forward. Provided we get consensus among the contending parties, we will be able to begin the roll-out digital migration within the next few months. However, if we fail to get consensus, we will of course go ahead after having considered all views.”

According to the medium-term budget goals for the 2013/14 fiscal year, government had targeted the production of 2.016 million STBs per year; however, to-date zero have been produced between April and September.

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SA’s R2.4-billion set-top box project has stalled