Comms minister decries digital migration detractors

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Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

South Africa must conclude its digital migration programme in order to bridge the digital divide, irrespective of who is kicking and screaming.

So says communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, speaking at the launch of her department’s DigiTech platform on the occasion of World Telecom Day 2022.

Ntshavheni explained that World Telecom Day marks the commitment that internet and global connectivity can break barriers for social change and human development.

“It’s not just to enable other things but also to bridge the digital divide, especially on a continent where the majority of our people remain unconnected and without access to technology.

“The impact of connectivity and connectivity in general will be drastic in improving the human conditions of our people and the development of Africa. We cannot afford to be left behind, irrespective of any other agendas. Our people are going to be connected.”

The switch to digital TV transmission is an important step towards making available the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz) radio frequency bands occupied by the analogue TV signals.

These spectrum bands were 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 as the end of the transition period for the broadcasting services and signal distributors to vacate the 700MHz-800MHz bands.

After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, Ntshavheni’s department has made numerous attempts to conclude the country’s digital migration process.

It planned to shut down the country’s analogue TV signals, which would mark the end of dual-illumination in SA, on 31 March.

However, the decision was legally challenged by Etv, which argued that the move will kill the businesses of free-to-air broadcasters.

After the High Court ruling that deferred the analogue switch-off deadline from 31 March to 30 June, Etv approached the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) on an urgent basis to appeal the judgement.

The free-to-air broadcaster, joined by community TV channels and other civil society organisations, has turned to the ConCourt in hopes the switch-off deadline will be further delayed.

Etv is of the view that a delay will give sufficient time to complete set-top box installations for qualifying households, to still enjoy free-to-air TV channels and access to vital news and information.

The ConCourt will on 20 May hear Etv and the minister’s applications to determine if the analogue switch-off process warrants any further delays.

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