Digital TV costing tax payers another R620 million

National Treasury released South Africa’s medium-term budget policy statement on Wednesday, 22 October 2014, with the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television (or lack thereof) featuring prominently in the Budget Vote for Communications.

The migration has been in limbo since Cabinet adopted amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy towards the end of 2013.

According to the Minister of Communications at the time, Yunus Carrim, the amendments made it so that set-top box (STB) control and encryption would not be mandatory.

However, he also said that government would be using STB Control, which didn’t sit too well with MultiChoice which argued that government would effectively be subsidising E-tv’s entry into the pay-TV market with taxpayers’ money.

This resulted in a war of words between those opposed to STB Control and those in favour of it.

Budget Vote

It was highlighted on Wednesday that R620 million would be used to support the digital migration programme.

Of that, R551 million has been allocated to the Universal Services and Access Fund to cover the costs of the broadcast digital migration project.

An additional R69 million has been allocated to Sentech to cover the dual illumination costs relating to the project.

Compared to the first six months of 2013/14, expenditure over the same period in 2014/15 decreased by R135.914 million, or 13.5%.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in expenditure on goods and services as the digital terrestrial television awareness campaign has been put on hold, while the ICT review process will be completed later in the year,” the Vote stated.

Compared to the first six months of 2013/14, revenue over the same period in 2014/15 decreased by R670.224 million, or 42.9%.

“This was mainly due to the decrease in administration fees, as the revenue collected by and received from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa is no longer recognised as the department’s own revenue, in terms of a directive from National Treasury,” the Vote said.

Extra money for DTT migration a good thing: DA

Commenting on the allocation of R620 million to South Africa’s DTT migration, the Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services, Mariann Shinn, said that it was great news.

“This more than doubles the amount approved,” Shinn said.

“The major benefit of the transition to digital broadcasting is that it frees up the analogue bandwidth for assigning spectrum for broadband throughout South Africa. This will be a great economic boost to service providers with Internet products and services to sell and for e-Government services to be delivered to even the most remote areas of the country,” Shinn said.

Shinn said the best news was that the funding had been allocated to the Universal Services and Access Fund (USAF) and Sentech — both of which report to the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS).

“This should embolden the Cabinet to approve the revised digital migration strategy that Minister of DTPS Siyabonga Cwele has been trying to have approved since coming to office,” Shinn said. “This should be a clear message to Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi that the DTT migration process is the responsibility of DTPS and she should stop stonewalling the process.”

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Digital TV costing tax payers another R620 million