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Another analogue switch-off deadline coming 'very soon'

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 18 May 2023

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) will “very soon” announce the final date for analogue switch-off, according to department minister Mondli Gungubele.

This, after missing another one of its self-imposed switch-off deadlines in March.

Delivering the DCDT’s 2023/2024 budget vote yesterday, Gungubele said five provinces – Free State, Northern Cape, Northwest, Limpopo and Mpumalanga – have already switched-off and are currently receiving television broadcast on the digital platform.

He added that despite the successful switch-off of analogue in these provinces, his predecessor minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni faced legal action from stakeholders who argued the switch-off process should not be concluded without greater engagement with stakeholders.

The court ruled that further consultation with stakeholders was necessary before proceeding with the analogue switch-off, he stated.

“In December 2022, the minister [Ntshavheni] proposed 31 March 2023 as the date for the analogue switch-off, and stakeholders who would be affected by this were invited to provide their feedback and suggestions, which they did.

“The department is extensively engaging with the various stakeholders and role-players to ensure broad and substantive consultations regarding the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. In the meantime, we are continuing to install set-top boxes for outstanding households.

“Once this consultation process is completed, we will announce the final date for analogue switch-off, which will be very soon, and will free up much-needed spectrum in accordance with the president’s directive.”

Gungubele urged consensus in the sector, saying it is necessary to conclude the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) project. “Hence, we have decided to switch-off the remaining 151 transmitters in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng during this year.

“The department aims to conclude the distribution of available set-top boxes to registered indigent households as soon as possible.”

South Africa’s BDM project has bedevilled government for more than a decade, plagued by numerous controversies that bogged down the process.

After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, the communications department has made numerous attempts to conclude the country’s BDM process.

Migrating to digital TV is an important step towards making available the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz) radio frequency spectrum bands occupied by the analogue TV signals.

These spectrum bands were licensed during telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s “historic” spectrum auction in March 2022.