The South African government appears to be trying to cut costs on the subsidised digital TV decoder it has promised to provide to the poorest of the poor by removing a feature it previously promoted.
These decoders, also known as set-top boxes (STBs), will be required to receive the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal that’s scheduled to be switched on in Q3 2012. An unsubsidised STB is expected to cost about R700 at retail.
According to Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha, head of the South African Communications Forum (SACF), government is wavering in including “return path” functionality in the subsidised STBs.
Return path functionality is essentially an Internet connection of some kind, which in this case is expected to be a mobile data modem.
Braithwaite-Kabosha said that if a return path is not included in the subsidised STB, a major opportunity would be missed to bridge the digital divide in South Africa.
Entry-level Internet better than nothing: SACF
“We recognise it won’t be perfect,” Braithwaite-Kabosha said. “It will be entry-level Internet access.”
However, people in rural areas don’t even know what the Internet is at this stage, Braithwaite-Kabosha added.
The subsidy money available is expected to be able to supply 5 million households, Braithwaite-Kabosha said, which means connecting around 20 million people to the Internet.
Braithwaite-Kabosha said that the SACF doesn’t want to delay the process of migrating from analogue to digital broadcasting, so they’re not asking for the minimum SANS specification to be amended.
However, on 1 June 2012 the SACF (whose members include Telkom, MTN, Vodacom, Cell C, SABC, Seacom, and Sentech) plans to host a press conference at which it will be lobbying for a return path to be included in the government RFP for the subsidised STB.
This is the “single biggest opportunity to increase Internet penetration in South Africa in the next five years,” the SACF said in its invitation to media.
A DoC spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.