The department of communications needs another R6.6bn to successfully complete the implementation of the broadcasting digital migration policy before the worldwide June 2019 deadline.
Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and acting director-general Thabiso Thiti appeared before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications on Tuesday.
Kubayi-Ngubane, who was appointed in October during President Jacob Zuma’s second Cabinet reshuffle last year, has 18 months in which to manage the process during which all broadcasters crossover from analogue services to digital.
However, the department needs more money.
“If I’m given the thorough resources, yes I will [deliver],” she told MPs.
“The deadline of June 2019 is not a self-imposed deadline, it is an ITU (International Telecommunication Union) deadline.
Target of five million set-top boxes
“Our appeal to colleagues in finance is let’s find the [financial] mechanism so we can migrate.”
All households still using traditional “analogue” frequencies, as opposed to those who’ve purchased satellite television, will require set-top boxes from the government by the deadline.
Government’s initial target was to provide five million boxes in total.
Thiti said the department had budgeted R2.45bn for early phases of the project, which was only sufficient to create 1.5 million “kits”, including set-top boxes, aerials and installation costs.
Of those, 850 000 have been delivered to South African Post Office warehouses, where they await national rollout.
Thus far, only 23 000 installations have been completed in the Northern Cape.
Thiti said the next step of the rollout phase would be to clear the existing kits and install them in the Free State and North West provinces first.
The rollout for the rest of the country is scheduled to take place from July 2018.
In total, the department requires R3.7bn for the creation of set-top boxes and antennae, another R1bn for distribution, warehousing, dual illumination and call centre facilities, and another R1.5bn to be allocated to the SABC.
Public awareness projects, tech support and office management make up the remaining R400m.
The department said it would make use of radio and television platforms to communicate the message to the public, as well as private sector resources offered.
A big issue for government policy is the encrypting of set-top boxes to allow for internet services for residents.
Kubayi-Ngubane said government’s policy remains that there will be no encryption allowed with the set-top boxes.
The reason for this was the June 2017 Constitutional Court order which said no public funds should be utilised for commercial reasons.
‘War room’ established
The Competition Commission is currently probing the issue to ensure that other television broadcasters won’t have an unfair advantage over internet services in the sector.
“We are expecting a report quite soon. I received a letter from the commission not to proceed with any procurement, so there seems to be a need for answers from the people involved in the project,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.
She said the department now has a dedicated “war room” dealing with the matter exclusively, that meets once a week.
“What we are worried about is to get the nation on board. We want a start date and an end date [for migration]; it can’t be open-ended.
“We also want to put a project plan in place. We can’t treat it as normal anymore.”
Kubayi-Ngubane will announce a new registration period for residents from qualifying households in “due course”.