Not much interest in subsidised set-top boxes for digital TV

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 08 Nov 2021

Despite government’s latest efforts to ramp-up the country’s much-delayed switch to digital TV, registration turnout for government-subsidised set-top boxes (STBs) remains low.

Beneficiary households – those with an income of R3 500 per month or less – were given until end-October to register for STB subsidies, as the country prepares to switch off all analogue transmission and go digital.

Figures provided by the South African Post Office (SAPO) to ITWeb show 58 902 approved households registered during October, across all nine provinces.

SAPO’s data shows the Eastern Cape (10 261), North West (8 452) and KwaZulu-Natal (7 783) as the provinces with the most approved STB applications. They are followed by Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo, with 7 561, 6 994 and 6 867, respectively.

The approved STB applications for Mpumalanga, Free State and Northern Cape reached 6 375, 3 309 and 1 300, respectively.

After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, SA is playing catch-up on digital migration. Additionally, the country’s analogue switch-off process has been hampered by a series of missteps, including controversies and leadership changes that delayed the process.

SA’s digital migration is important because it will allow for the spectrum dividend occupied by the analogue signals to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

To ensure beneficiary households are not left behind, government committed to subsidise the required STBs, which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.

Qualifying households are required to register for these devices at their nearest SAPO branch.

New plan in place

Last month, Cabinet approved a revised integrated analogue switch-off implementation plan to complete the remaining areas by March 2022.

At the time,communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni explained the country is looking to recover lost ground, adding that 1.184 million households have been registered out of the estimated 3.75 million qualifying households, to date.

“Given the low numbers of registered beneficiary households, Cabinet approved a last call for registration, with a cut-off date of 31 October 2021. This last call is also made fully aware of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on household incomes.

“The qualifying households who register on or before 31 October 2021 will be connected before the analogue switch-over (ASO) and the households that register after 31 October 2021 will only be connected within three to six months after the ASO.

“We call upon all eligible households to register at the nearest post office on or before the 31st October 2021 to receive government assistance for your set-top box installation. We are also finalising a registration app and the details will be announced in the near future.”

According to Ntshavheni, with government’s revised plan, Cabinet approved the adoption of a managed integrated model that actively involves all broadcast media players to contribute to ramping up the STB installation capacity.

“The broadcasters and Sentech will continue to use local installers as part of the SMME development. The department has started engagements with industry players and enterprise development entities, including funders, on additional opportunities and enterprise development support that could be made available to these installers, among others.”

Furthermore, Ntshavheni revealed she has established a project steering committee, which is constituted by CEOs and technology executives of all affected and participating stakeholders.

“The steering committee is chaired by the minister and meets on a fortnightly basis to lead the switchover process. I have also appointed a project manager to oversee the digital migration and ASO process. We will report to Cabinet on a monthly basis and update the nation about the progress at least once a month.”

There’s still time

In a statement, SAPO says it’s not “too late” to apply for a government-subsidised decoder.

Qualifying households that missed the deadline of 31 October to apply for a free government-subsidised TV decoder can still do so, it notes, although they will only receive their decoders after next year’s switch-over deadline.

“Households that apply after 31 October 2021 may receive their decoder after 31 March 2022. Those that applied earlier should receive their decoder before 31 March next year, when the old analogue television transmission will be switched off. All television transmissions will be digital, and television sets will need a decoder to work.”

SAPO reiterated the subsidised STBs are free and will not cost households anything.

“A member of the qualifying household has to visit a Post Office as they need to show an identity document and sign the application in person. It is not possible to apply for the decoder online.”

Qualifying beneficiaries must visit their nearest post office branch as soon as possible with a South African identity document, proof of address, and an affidavit to confirm the family has a working television set. They also need to supply a bank statement or affidavit to confirm the family income is R3 500 per month or less.

“If you receive a SASSA grant, you do not need to bring proof of income. Proof that you receive a SASSA grant is adequate.

“The SAPO branches have standard affidavits that the applicants can use to declare their income, to confirm they own a working television set, and to confirm their residential address. You do not need to visit a police station to complete an official affidavit before you go to the SAPO.”

Once an application has been approved, the information is given to Sentech to appoint a local installer for that household’s STB.

“SAPO is aware some families registered for a set-top box at the beginning of the campaign, but the installation has not been done yet. Installations are done per province and appointment of local installers is done by Sentech via local municipalities. There is no need to re-register.

“Even if your local Post Office is very busy with grant payments, rest assured: if you apply for a subsidised set-top box, you will go into a separate queue. If you are a SASSA beneficiary and you have a working television set, remember that you qualify for the subsidised set-top box.”