Digital TV in SA: no encryption needed, says Cabinet

It will not be mandatory for digital TV set-top boxes (STBs) in South Africa to include a control system, according to amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy adopted by Cabinet on Wednesday, 4 December 2013.

The Government Communications and Information System department issued a press statement today (5 December 2013) in which it outlined the discussions and decisions made by cabinet yesterday.

STB Control has been a hotly debated topic among broadcasters, with E-tv taking court action against former Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, when she ordered that Sentech would be responsible for the STB Control system.

Despite E-tv’s opposition to Pule’s decision, it has fought for a mandatory STB Control system in South Africa’s digital terrestrial TV (DTT) decoders, which would effectively result in the mandatory encryption of free-to-air TV signals.

DStv opposed E-tv’s bid for a mandatory STB Control system, run by South Africa’s free-to-air broadcasters, as part of the STB specification.

There have also been unanswered questions regarding a deal between DStv and the SABC in which the public broadcaster reportedly agreed to not make its channels available on an encrypted DTT platform.

According to Cabinet’s statement, among the criteria it used to make the decision were:

  • the need for speed on digital migration, especially to release radio frequency spectrum;
  • ensure that the government subsidy is used productively;
  • stimulate the local electronics industry and create jobs;
  • benefit emerging entrepreneurs;
  • reduce prospects of the South African market being flooded by cheap STBs that are not fully functional;
  • protect the interests of the SABC;
  • be sensitive to rapid changes in the broadcasting and ICT sector as a whole;
  • reduce the extent of monopolisation and encourage competition by creating space for new players in the pay television market without unfairly benefiting from the Government subsidy; and
  • reduce the prospects of legal action from broadcasters and entrepreneurs that would hold-up the migration process.

“Taking these and other criteria together, Cabinet decided that the use of a control system should not be mandatory,” the statement said.

However, STBs subsidised by government will have a control system “to protect Government’s investment in the subsidised STB market and the local electronics industry and, with rapid technological changes, for future use by broadcasters who might not want to use it now.”

To avoid subscription broadcasters unfairly benefiting from the STB control system, Cabinet said that government’s investment in the STB Control system will be recovered from those subscription broadcasters that choose to make use of the STB Control system.

“Cabinet urges all parties to move on from their previous differences and work together with the government in rolling out digital migration as soon as possible in the country’s interests,” the statement said.

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Digital TV in SA: no encryption needed, says Cabinet