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Free State still en route to digital TV

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Deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana.
Deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana.

Following a string of missed deadlines, Pinky Kekana, deputy minister in the Department of Communications (DOC), will lead a two-day implementation inspection of the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme in the Free State next week.

SA missed the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for countries to complete the full switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT). The ITU has called on nations to migrate to digital to allow radio frequency spectrum to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

Last year, the DOC, the custodian of migration, promised to complete the BDM project by July 2020. It said the Free State would be the first to fully migrate by 31 December 2018.

Facilitating the Free State's switch-over is in line with the DOC's plans to first migrate communities in border-lying provinces to minimise signal interference from neighbouring countries. The province shares a border with landlocked Lesotho.

However, earlier this year, the communications ministry confirmed it had pushed the Free State's switch-over to DTT to end February. The end of February came and went without all the households fully migrating.

According to a statement, Kekana's purpose for the visit to the province is to identify and resolve any possible challenges in the implementation of the BDM programme. "Free State is one of the provinces that were earmarked in the phased approach implementation of the BDM project. Other provinces will follow," she says in the statement.

The deputy minister will also visit selected households to inspect the installation of government-subsidised decoders.

The South African government has committed to supply over five million free STBs to households that depend on social grants and those with an income of less than R3 200. The STBs are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.

In the Free State, over 75% of television-viewing households have registered for free STBs, the department's spokesperson previously revealed.

Spectrum aspirations

Government has identified the BDM programme 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.

When the country switches to DTT, it will make radio frequency spectrum available, which is currently occupied by analogue services for other broadband and broadcasting services. Mobile operators are eager to see the full implementation of the project, as this will unlock the necessary spectrum they have long been calling for.

"Government is determined to complete this project speedily. This is in line with our priority to ensure we are in a position to release the much-needed digital dividend spectrum," Kekana states.

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