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Minister sticks to ANC policy on digital TV

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo. (Photo source: GCIS)

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo. (Photo source: GCIS)

Although the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of non-encryption for government-subsidised set-top boxes (STBs), communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo is resolute to follow the African National Congress policy with respect to the digital migration process.

SA has been planning for digital migration since 2008 but missed the June 2015 deadline to switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

The country's digital migration process has been characterised by drawn-out legal battles, suspended production of STBs and amendments to the ANC's Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) policy.

Another spanner was thrown in the migration process last week, when the ConCourt upheld the appeal by former communications minister Faith Muthambi against the Supreme Court of Appeal judgement in favour of encrypted digital TV decoders.

Muthambi, the SABC and M-Net filed applications with the ConCourt for leave to appeal the ruling and their applications were opposed by Etv and others, including SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa.

Responding to ITWeb's questions, the Department of Communications (DOC) says Dlodlo has welcomed the finalisation of this matter in the courts. "This will afford the minister the opportunity to take the process forward within the mandate of the ruling party as her guide."

The DOC adds: "The minister is on record reiterating that she will at all times approach her work within the ruling party policy framework. Taking the process forward on the DTT will accordingly be approached in that manner."

Party politics

In 2013, the ANC resolved to use encrypted STBs for the country's migration; however, Muthambi made amendments in terms of the type of decoders that would be used for digital TV.

Muthambi adopted the amendment that calls for the use of unencrypted decoders, a decision she said was in line with unconditionally providing free access to content for citizens in all corners of SA.

The amendments to the ruling party's policy resulted in a public spat between Muthambi and higher education minister Blade Nzimande, who lambasted the former communications minister for defying ANC and alliance decisions on DTT.

Nzimande was not the only party member to lock horns with Muthambi. The ANC's Jackson Mthembu also called out Muthambi, saying the use of unencrypted STBs was not part of the ANC's mandate.

Minister Muthambi fired back at suggestions that she defied her party's directive by opting to use unencrypted STBs.

With Dlodlo at the helm, the communications department is determined to proceed with the implementation of the DTT process and meet its December 2018 switch off deadline.

Manufacturing standstill

With the latest developments, the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA) has remained mum with regards to the manufacturing of these decoders.

USAASA, the agency which has been charged with the responsibility of managing the production and installation of STBs, previously instructed manufacturers to suspend production of DTT decoders until further notice.

Direct to the home (DTH) decoders were not affected and the production thereof continued, the agency said at the time. USAASA contracted manufacturers to produce both DTT and DTH decoders.

DTH STBs are encrypted as per SABS standards and have been distributed to qualifying households in the border areas which will not receive DTT signals. Meanwhile, the DTT decoders are not encrypted as per the amendments to the BDM policy, according to USAASA.

In 2015, the DOC placed the first order for 1.5 million STBs with USAASA. Government plans to subsidise fiveĀ million poor TV-owning households.

Last year, USAASA said as of 31 May, 447 458 DTT and 20 306 DTH STBs had been manufactured and verified.

The DOC has confirmed that 23 000 DTH STBs have been manufactured so far.

USAASA had not responded to ITWeb's questions by the time of publishing.


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