Etv court case to derail migration

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South Africa's digital migration process faces further setback as Etv is granted leave to appeal the production of non-encrypted set-top-boxes.
South Africa's digital migration process faces further setback as Etv is granted leave to appeal the production of non-encrypted set-top-boxes.

A court ruling by the Pretoria High Court has threatened to put a spanner in the country's much delayed digital migration process.

On Friday, the High Court ruled free-to-air broadcaster Etv can appeal government's digital terrestrial (DTT) TV policy to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).

"A potential outcome of the SCA ruling could imply yet another delay in the digital migration process," says Ovum analyst Richard Hurst.

Etv took Department of Communications (DOC) minister, Faith Muthambi, to court over the use of non-encrypted set-top boxes (STB) for when the country finally migrates from analogue to digital television viewing.

The free-to-air broadcaster approached the court to have a provision set aside in the policy that says government-subsidised STBs would not have the capability to encrypt broadcast signals. Etv has argued government-subsidised DTT set-top boxes should have the capability to support encryption.

According to the broadcaster, encryption would ensure a uniform and reliable viewer experience, the ability to broadcast premium and high-definition content, and would mean a boost for the local manufacturing industry.

Hurst says: "One can certainly understand the position of Etv and its desire to ensure everything is being done to ultimately benefit the broadcasting sector and Etv's position in this market.

"I think that the issue here will be the delay in the allocation of appropriate spectrum for mobile broadband services, as well as digital TV," he adds. Hurst says the South African consumer will be the biggest loser if there are further delays in the migration process.


Muthambi's department was recently embroiled in a public spat with the African National Congress' (ANC's) Jackson Mthembu, over the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy on the use of non-encrypted STBs.

In 2013, the ANC resolved to use encrypted STBs for the country's migration; however, Muthambi went against the ruling party's mandate and decided to adopt non-encryption for the digital migration process.

According to reports, the DOC minister would be forced to reverse her digital TV policy after disobeying the ANC policy on digital migration.

The DOC, however, dismissed claims its policy on the use of non-encryption for STBs was up for reversal.

Hurst says the country can't afford a further delay in the digital migration process. "The entire process has acquired a farcical tone, implying that yet another delay would hardly be of surprise to the industry at large."

South Africa missed the International Telecommunication Union's 17 June deadline for migration.

Production under way

In September, the DOC placed the first order of STBs with the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (USAASA). The DOC ordered 1.5 million STBs, as part of government's plans to subsidise five million poor TV-owning households by providing free STBs.

USAASA CEO Zami Nkosi confirmed to ITWeb that production of STBs began between the end of August and early September.

The agency has allocated its first purchase order for STBs to CZ Electronics, BUA Africa and Leratadima.

In a statement, Muthambi notes the production of STBs is in progress and a date when the set-top boxes will be available in the market will be announced soon.

Efforts by ITWeb to get a response from USAASA to determine if production of non-encrypted STBs will be put on hold pending the SCA ruling went unanswered by the time of publication.

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