Digital TV: three years off deadline mark

Everyone in the country can see digital migration is no longer an impossible project to implement, says minister Faith Muthambi.
Read time 3min 20sec
Everyone in the country can see digital migration is no longer an impossible project to implement, says minister Faith Muthambi.

The Department of Communications (DOC) expects to complete the country's digital migration process at the end of 2018, three years after the official International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline to switch off analogue television.

DOC minister Faith Muthambi says her department aims to complete the migration project in the next three years.

In 2006, SA, along with other countries, committed to the ITU's June 2015 deadline for all countries to switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

However, SA missed this deadline and progress in the country's digital migration project has since been miniscule.

"We are now eyeing to complete the digital migration project in the country by the end of December 2018," says Muthambi.

One province at a time

After missing last June's deadline, the DOC, which is in charge of the country's broadcasting digital migration process, commenced the registration process in October 2015 for set-top boxes (STBs) required to transmit digital signals for television viewing.

Government plans to subsidise five million qualifying households with free STBs.

The department has prioritised border-lying areas as the country switches from analogue to digital television. These include the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) area in the Northern Cape, as well as Mpumalanga, Free State and Limpopo, where analogue causes the greatest interference.

Last month marked the first milestone in the country's migration project with the start of phase one of government's analogue switch-off project (ASO) in towns that sit in the core SKA area.

According to a department official, the ASO project covers 98% of the SKA area in the Northern Cape, which will eventually result in 25 000 households receiving digital signal.

Muthambi says: "I think everyone in the country can see that digital migration is no longer an impossible project to implement. The project was handed over to me on 30 January, and on 18 March 2015, the policy was gazetted.

"Last week, we officially turned off the analogue television transmission, whereby over 3 700 households in the towns of Carnavon, Vanwyksvlei, Brandvlei, Vosburg and Williston were successfully migrated to the much-awaited digital platform."

According to Muthambi, registrations for government-subsidised STBs are now under way in the Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. "Registrations for STBs will open in the North West, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng at a later stage. Poor households are urged to register for free STBs at their local post office.

"Our role as government is to guarantee that this transition process runs smoothly and is fair. We are coming to your town and please be patient," she adds.

STB conundrum

Although Muthambi has aspirations to complete the DTT project in three years' time, there is still the possibility the department could miss its own deadline.

The issue of technical specifications for STBs, which resulted in a legal battle between Etv and the minister, is still up in the air. The free-to-air broadcaster took Muthambi to court over the use of unencrypted STBs.

Following a judgement by the Supreme Court of Appeals favouring Etv, Muthambi moved to challenge the ruling that favours encrypted decoders.

Muthambi has also admitted to the slow progress in the registration process for households requiring STBs. According to the department, some 30 000 households in the Northern Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo have registered with the South African Post Office to receive STBs.

Furthermore, there is the issue with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA), the agency charged with managing the production and installation of STBs, which has been instructed to suspend the production of decoders.

Before it was ordered to suspend production, USAASA said it had manufactured 447 458 DTT decoders and 20 306 direct-to-home STBs.

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
IT in government editor

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba is the IT in government editor at ITWeb. She reports on tech initiatives, policies and digital transformation strategies in government, banking and education. She holds an Honours degree in Journalism from Rhodes University. Behind that smile, she is plotting how best to get government officials to respond to her emails before deadline :)

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