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SA looks to recover lost ground in digital migration process

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Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

As the country prepares to switch off all analogue transmission and go digital, government is urging qualifying households to register for set-top box subsidies by the end of October.

Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni made the call yesterday, when she reiterated government’s new expedited plan on digital migration and analogue switch-off.

In her address, the minister outlined how the country will cover lost ground in transitioning from analogue transmission to digital.

SA is playing catch-up on digital migration, as it is lagging behind by almost seven years on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)-mandated migration deadline.

The country missed the ITU deadline of complete switch over by June 2015 due to a series of missteps, including controversies and leadership changes in the department that delayed the process.

Nonetheless, Ntshavheni says: “We have shifted from a staggered provincial approach towards a consolidated national approach, where set-top box installations and analogue switch-over will happen simultaneously in all nine provinces of South Africa, although we anticipate different completion and migration dates.”

According to the new government plan, the switch-over should be completed by March 2022.

The minister says to give effect to successful digital migration and analogue switch-off processes, “we have to ensure that everyone who needs to migrate from analogue to digital is ready to do so and are not negatively affected by the switch-over from analogue to digital”.

Resultantly, Ntshavheni is urging beneficiary households (households earning a total salary of less than R3 500 per month) to register by the end of this month for government support, to ensure universal migration.

The government undertook to assist these households with installation of set-top boxes.

To date, 1.184 million households have been registered out of the estimated 3.75 million qualifying households, says the minister.

“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.”

Further, Ntshavheni says, 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 set-top box 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.”

To ensure this plan is executed, Ntshavheni says: “I have 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.”

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