SA's slow-crawl towards digital TV gains momentum

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

South Africa is firmly on the path of Broadcast Digital Migration (BDM), says minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, noting government’s commitment to meeting the 31 March 2022 deadline.

Ntshavheni and a delegation from the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies yesterday briefed media on the progress made in light of government’s revised integrated BDM and analogue switch-off implementation plan.

According to the minister, the department managed to conclude analogue switch-off in the Free State at the end of October, in accordance with the plan, without any TV blackouts.

In addition, on Friday, 26 November, it will complete the switch-off of the last SABC analogue site in the Northern Cape, Upington. “I will also visit some television-receiving households. We are also on track to conclude the North West, in line with the plan.

“In terms of analogue switch-off sites, Sentech has been able to switch-off all 84 sites of MultiChoice analogue transmissions, 113 out of 288 (40%) SABC analogue transmissions and four of the 95 (4%) Etv analogue transmissions.”

She added that the past month was also used to ramp-up installer capacity in line with the managed integrated model as per the approved plan. “Sentech’s installer capacity for the remaining provinces has been created, and this will intensify installations in the following months in all remaining provinces.

“Limpopo and Mpumalanga, we are fully ramped up and we are on track as well because they are the next provinces after Northern Cape and North West. We are commencing with Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KZN and Western Cape in terms of the installations. Though there were other installations that we’ve done before, we are ramping up the installation programme there and also ramping up household registrations.”

After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, South Africa is playing catch-up on digital migration. Additionally, the country’s analogue switch-off process has been hampered by a series of missteps that bogged down the process even further.

South Africa’s digital migration is important because it will allow for the spectrum dividend occupied by the analogue signals to be freed up for mobile broadband services.

Government has undertaken to assist indigent households, who apply for assistance, with set-top-boxes (STBs), which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.

Indigent households − those with an income of R3 500 per month or less – were given until the end of October to register for STB subsidies..

The SA Post Office (SAPO) previously indicated to ITWeb that a total of 58 902 approved households registered for STBs in October, across all nine provinces.

However, yesterday, the minister stated that 48 453 new registrations were recorded as at the end of October. This, she noted, brings the total number of registered indigent households to just over 1.2 million.

“The process of registering indigent households continues and teams from the department, SAPO and USAASA [Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa] are in various districts of our country to assist indigent households with registration.

“A total of 572 255 beneficiary households have been migrated from the current total of 1 228 879. For the month of November, over 30 000 new applications have been recorded.”

The minister noted that both she and deputy minister Philly Mapulane have taken time to visit provinces to “observe first-hand the registration drive, installation of STBs and how people are receiving digital television”.

Online STB drive

To ramp up registrations for government-subsidised STBs, Ntshavheni said a registration website will go live on Monday, 29 November.

In order to receive the STBs, qualifying households have been required to register for these devices at their nearest SAPO branch.

For those households that missed the 31 October application deadline for STBs, they were told they can still apply, although they will only receive their decoders after next year’s switch-over deadline.

The website, said the minister, will enable online registrations for set-top box devices. “SITA [State IT Agency] is also finalising the registration link that can be used by those with USSD phones/feature phone or Lipopotane, as they are sometimes known in local languages.”

Adds Ntshavheni: “South African citizens who are still receiving television services directly from an aerial/antenna that get mounted on a pole and do not have a set-top box or smart TV set, should find themselves a set-top box or a digital TV to be able to receive digital television.

“For the list of digital TVs, DTT compatible TVs and smart TV sets, you may call or WhatsApp the call centre on 0860 736 832 and WhatsApp 0600 625 458, or visit the websites of the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies.”

She reiterated that those households that are already connected though the DStv, OVHD, StarSat and the TelkomOne platform will not be affected by the analogue switch-off.

“Should you not be eligible for government STB and still require migrating to digital, please liaise with the above-mentioned broadcaster and arrange your digital installation.

“If you own a smart digital TV and live in an area that has digital terrestrial network coverage, you do not need an additional decoder. Test if your TV has a digital tuner by running a manual or auto channel search.”

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