Government-subsidised STB installations hit milestone

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 03 Jul 2023

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) says over 1.25 million set-top boxes (STBs) have been installed in qualifying households across all provinces.

This, after the DCDT received about 1.7 million applications, it reveals. A total of 1.5 million households qualified to receive the government-subsidised STBs, which it counts as successful STB registrations.

The department noted this in response to questions from ITWeb, after communications minister Mondli Gungubele provided an update on applications received since the start of the STB registration process in 2015.

Gungubele indicated the figure is inclusive of the number of registrations for the extendedperiod of July to 30 September 2022.

As part of the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) programme, government undertook to subsidise indigent households – those with an income of R3 500 per month or less – by supplying them with STBs, which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets. Qualifying households were required to register for these devices at their nearest SA Post Office (SAPO) branch.

According to the DCDT, it continues to receive late applications, which are processed through SAPO.

“Not everyone who applied qualified. Some did not qualify because they are not South African citizens, or did not meet the indigent household criteria, among other reasons.

“With the announced two-step approach, STB installations will continue towards the conclusion second step of the ASO [analogue switch-off]. We are also revisiting households that were not found at the provided addresses.”

Despite numerous calls for households to register for the subsidised digital TV decoders, registration turnout was lacklustre, contributing to delays in the BDM’s implementation over the years.

Furthermore, the multibillion-rand project has been beset with multiple challenges, including legal upheaval, party politics and other controversies over the years.

In 2020, it was revealed that government-subsidised STBs are stored in SAPO warehouses at a cost of R5.1 million a month, amounting to R60 million per annum.

Additionally, in 2021, Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani, acting director-general at the DCDT, conceded there had been slow STB installations, describing the process as “a drop in the ocean considering the number of households that still have to migrate nationwide”.

According to Gungubele, whose department is overseeing the digital migration process, the plan is to continue to provide registered households with STB installations through to the end of the project, in alignment with the available budget.

“We are currently driving installations in the provinces where we will be undertaking analogue switch-off.

“We are measuring our STB installation progress per location and where we will undertake switch-off. The majority have received STB installations.”

After missing the International Telecommunication Union’s mid-2015 deadline for all countries to switch from analogue to digital TV, South Africa finally seems to be making headway in regards to the much-delayed BDM programme.

Government has identified the BDM initiative as a key project to improve the lives of South African citizens. The state is of the view that successful migration will empower it to bridge the digital divide, increase the competitiveness of the economy, create jobs and build social cohesion.

The switch to digital TV will finally free up the radio frequency spectrum bands currently occupied by analogue services for mobile broadband and broadcasting services.