Uptick in set-top box connections, says minister

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Gauteng households that applied for government-sponsored set-top boxes (STBs) by the 31 October 2021 cut-off date have had the necessary devices installed in their homes.

As a result, the STB connections meant to be completed by September have already begun in the province.

So said communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, briefing the Portfolio Committee on Communications about progress of the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) programme.

Ntshavheni’s ministry, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, together with some of its entities, is overseeing the country’s BDM programme and installation of STBs.

As part of the BDM, the 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.

However, the project has been hampered by slow STB installation over the 10 years it’s been implemented.

The minister told MPs yesterday that installations have been completed in the Northern Cape, with plans to complete installations in Limpopo by the end of this week. She added that Mpumalanga installations should be completed next week.

“The balance [of STBs] that we remain with in Limpopo is just over 3 000, and in Mpumalanga, just over 8 000 remains.”

Last month, Cabinet assured the public that Ntshavheni’s communications ministry will make sure the 507 251 households that registered by 31 October 2021 will be connected no later than 30 June 2022.

The 260 868 households that registered between 31 October 2021 and 10 March 2022 will be connected to their STBs by 30 September 2022, revealed the Cabinet statement.

The minister noted yesterday that there are people already saying the STB installations will not be completed. However, her department is confident in their strategy and plan.

“Our record will show we have installed more than 250 000 STBs in a matter of months, and we are capable of completing the numbers.

“We should finish the provinces of the Free State and the Western Cape in the first week of June, and then the North West province in the second week of June. The Eastern Cape and KZN [KwaZulu-Natal], barring rain disruptions, should be completed in the third week of June.”

Ntshavheni’s pronouncement comes as the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) has requested the communications ministry for updated figures of STB connections, which the minister said will be submitted today.

Last Friday, the ConCourt bench heard arguments from the legal teams in the matter appealing the High Court’s judgement on the analogue switch-off deadline for BDM.

Broadcaster Etv, joined by non-governmental organisations SOS Coalition and MMA, is looking to the ConCourt for a further extension of the switch-off deadline. Vodacom and ICASA have joined the minister in challenging Etv’s appeal.

The #SaveFreeTV campaign, which came out in full support of the broadcasters opposing the analogue TV switch-off, has called on the ConCourt to consider the households whose free-to-air TV will be cut-off if analogue broadcasting is “switched off too soon”.

The apex court has reserved judgement in the matter.

South Africa’s switch from analogue to digital is important because it will make available the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz) radio frequency bands occupied by the analogue TV signals.

These are the spectrum bands licensed during telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s (ICASA’s) “historic” spectrum auction in March. ICASA has determined and announced 1 July 2022 as the end of the transition period for the broadcasting services and signal distributors to vacate the 700MHz-800MHz bands.

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