South Africa is switching off analogue TV — final date announced

South Africa will finish its migration to digital terrestrial television and switch off its analogue TV signals on 31 March 2022.

The switch-off will free critical wireless network capacity that mobile operators want to expand their 4G and 5G networks.

These “digital dividend” radio frequencies are part of the spectrum auction the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) plans to conclude on 8 March.

They are also the subject of a court case that Telkom has brought to set aside the auction and force Icasa back to the drawing board.

Telkom contends that it is unreasonable to expect them to bid on spectrum when there is no guarantee that it will be available to use.

Human settlements minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has accused the partially state-owned Telkom of holding South Africa to ransom.

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni proclaimed the final switch-off date in a statement issued on Monday night, citing paragraph 3.3.1 of the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy.

Ntshavheni declared the date despite a pending court case brought by E-tv owner eMedia Holdings, which will be heard in the middle of March.

eMedia has called for South Africa’s analogue switch-off to be delayed by 9–12 months, arguing that many people will be left without a TV signal.

Aside from South Africans being left without access to television, eMedia said the drop in viewership would hurt its bottom-line substantially.

Ntshavheni disputes that anyone will be left behind.

Khumbodzu Ntshavheni
Communications minister Khumbodzu Ntshavheni sitting next to President Cyril Ramaphosa

“We have successfully achieved to provide digital signal coverage for broadcasters to enable [digital terrestrial television] migration in South Africa,” the communications department said in its statement.

“Secondly, the Government of South Africa is supporting indigent households to migrate from analogue to digital.”

Ntshavheni said that she is satisfied with the number of indigent households registered for government assistance to receive decoder-like set-top boxes that translate digital TV signals for older TVs.

She is also satisfied with set-top box installations and progress with the analogue switch-off in various provinces.

The Free State had its last analogue transmitter switched off in November 2021.

The other provinces that have switched off their transmitters are the Northern Cape, North West Province, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo.

Ntshavheni announced that Limpopo had been switched off during her State of the Nation Debate speech.

Decade late

South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital TV is more than ten years late.

The country aimed to have 80% digital TV signal coverage in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which kicked off on 11 June that year.

Total switch-off of South Africa’s analogue TV signal would follow on 1 November 2011.

The South African government missed both of these deadlines, even though they were not particularly ambitious.

South Africa had already been gearing up for the migration from its analogue PAL-based terrestrial TV broadcasting system for ten years by that point.

South Africa had also committed to a 17 June 2015 deadline with the International Telecommunications Union, which it missed.

South Africa’s digital TV migration deadlines — from 2006 to 2022
Deadline Milestone Outcome
31 December 2006 Digital migration strategy delivery Missed
1 June 2007 Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (BDMP) publication Missed
8 September 2008 Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (BDMP) published Delivered late
1 November 2008 Digital terrestrial television switch-on On-time
11 June 2010 80% digital TV signal coverage by FIFA World Cup Missed
1 November 2011 Analogue terrestrial TV switch-off — initial deadline (per Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri) Missed
30 April 2013 Potential analogue terrestrial TV switch-off (per ICASA) Missed
31 December 2013 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Roy Padayachie) Missed
17 June 2015 ITU deadline for analogue switch-off Missed
31 December 2018 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Muthambi) Missed
30 June 2019 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane) Missed
31 July 2020 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Nomvula Mokonyane) Missed
31 December 2021 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams) Missed
31 January 2022 New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Ndabeni-Abrahams, affirmed by Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni) Missed
31 March 2022 Latest analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni) Pending

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South Africa is switching off analogue TV — final date announced