Millions set aside for dual-illumination amid digital TV delay

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More than R200 million has been allocated to Sentech for the dual-illumination broadcast phase.

This, as the state signal distributor continues to support dual-illumination because of the country’s years-long delayed switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Responding to Democratic Alliance MP Cameron Mackenzie’s question on the costs to maintain dual-illumination, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies CFO Joy Masemola indicated R204 million was allocated to Sentech for this financial year (2021/2022).

On Tuesday, the communications ministry, together with its entities, briefed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Communications on the second quarter expenditure and performance reports.

Masemola said the Universal Service and Access Fund was initially allocated R578 million, but there was a cut of R78 million when funds were being prioritised for the COVID-19 initiatives, adding that the adjusted allocation is R500 million.

“To the department, there was R20 million that was allocated for the awareness campaign on the BDM [Broadcasting Digital Migration] project that is being conducted by the department.”

Although SA committed to the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU's) call for all nations to switch to DTT, the country missed the June 2015 deadline to complete the full switchover. The ITU has called on nations to migrate to digital to allow radio frequency spectrum to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

The country’s analogue switch-off process has faced numerous challenges over the years, with controversies and department leadership changes bogging down the process even further. Last month, ITWeb reported that 3.5 million South African households still need to migrate to DTT.

Sentech continues to support the dual-illumination broadcast phase while the digital migration is still in progress.

Dual-illumination, or simulcast, is the interim period in which both analogue and digital signals are allowed to be transmitted at the same time before the analogue signal is switched off. At the end of the dual-illumination period, all analogue television broadcasts will cease.

Sentech CEO Mlamli Booi previously pointed to the millions-worth of savings government and the South African Broadcasting Corporation would realise if the country finally switched-off the analogue broadcast signal.

The South African government is looking to begin the phased switch-off of the analogue TV transmitters this month in the Free State, with the communications minister once again promising to “speed up” the country’s digital migration process.

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