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Govt sets final deadline for STB registrations

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Jul 2022
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says qualifying indigent households have until 30 September to apply for government-subsidised set-top boxes (STBs).

This will be formalised in a Government Gazette that will be published today.

Ntshavheni was speaking yesterday at a media briefing, detailing her department’s next steps following the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) ruling on analogue switch-off (ASO).

The minister revealed a total of 260 268 households registered for STBs between 1 November 2021 and 31 March, while 49 385 registered between April and June.

This, she stated, signals a decline in STB applications and registrations by indigent households.

“Noting the decline in STB applications and registrations in recent months and comparing the end of October, end of March and end of June registrations, this period is sufficient for the last registrations.

“Through this notice, I will also inform members of the public and non-indigent households who are still watching analogue TV, of my intension to switch-off analogue and urge them to purchase compliant digital television sets from the retail market. The compliant digital TV set is identified through the go-digital logo.”

She added: “The 31 October 2021 deadline was a provisional or soft deadline, as qualifying households could still apply for set-top boxes. However, 30 September 2022 is the final deadline and no applications will be considered after this date.”

Government has undertaken to assist indigent households that applied for STBs, which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets. Qualifying households − those with an income of R3 500 per month or less – are required to register for these devices at their nearest SA Post Office branch.

Households were given a deadline of 31 October 2021 to register for STB subsidies, in preparation for the country’s switch from all analogue transmission to digital TV. Due to low registration turnout for STBs, the deadline was extended to 30 September 2021, albeit those households would only receive their decoders later than those that applied before the October deadline.

In March, the minister announced plans to switch-off analogue TV signals on 31 March, marking the end of dual-illumination in South Africa. The Pretoria High Court deferred the analogue switch-off from 31 March to 30 June.

However, the ConCourt last month set aside that court order, replacing it with an order declaring the ASO date and the imposed deadline to register for STBs unconstitutional.

Etv approached the apex on an urgent basis to appeal a judgement and order of the High Court of SA, Gauteng Division, Pretoria, following its decision to defer the ASO deadline from 31 March to 30 June.

The free-to-air broadcaster, joined by Media Monitoring Africa and SOS Support Public Broadcasting, argued that Ntshavheni’s decision to determine the ASO date to be 31 March, amended by the High Court to 30 June, must be declared unlawful.

Etv also argued the minister had a duty to consult the public, including the applicants, before imposing the STB registration cut-off date determining the analogue switch-off date.

The ConCourt held that there are constraints the minister must consider when exercising her authority, adding that for the minister to set the ASO date, she must notify the industry and affected parties, and take into account their representations.

Following the 30 September cut-off date, Ntshavheni indicated she will evaluate the total number of new registrations against the progress with installations and commence consultations with affected parties on the new ASO date.