Free State digital migration moves to February

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The DOC says migrating to DTT will free up space for more broadcast channels.
The DOC says migrating to DTT will free up space for more broadcast channels.

The Department of Communications (DOC) has pushed the switch-over from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) in the Free State to end February. The initial deadline was 31 December 2018.

This, according to the DOC, is to give those Free State residents who are yet to register for government-subsidised set-top boxes (STBs) more time to do so.

The South African government has committed to supply over 5 million free STBs to households that depend on social grants and those with an income of less than R3 200. The STBs are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.

In a statement, the department's Mish Molakeng says due to overwhelming demand for government-subsidised decoders for qualifying television viewing households in the Free State, residents are being given a grace period for the next eight weeks, to register.

"The deadline was the 31st of December, but it has now been extended to end of February. Over 75% of television viewing households have already registered in the Free State province."

Long road to migration

After missing several self-set deadlines, last year the DOC promised to complete SA's digital migration by July 2020, and earmarked the Free State to be the first to fully migrate from analogue to digital TV.

As the ministry in charge of the government-led Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme, the DOC, under the leadership of former communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane, established various efforts to get the much-delayed project back on track.

The department decided to set up a project management office last July, which was in addition to a Digital Migration Advisory Council, to advise it on how to implement the project.

Furthermore, a revised model to roll-out the project was introduced. In terms of the revised model, government has abandoned the procurement of STBs, warehousing, transportation and installation of devices in favour of a market- or retail-driven approach through co-operation with the private sector and industry.

The communications ministry also partnered with local television manufacturers and the broadcasters to educate the public about digital migration and the options available to consumers, especially TV-viewing households that do not qualify for the government STBs.

According to Molakeng, the SABC and Etv have heeded government's call to fast-track digital migration, by switching off analogue transmitters in parts of the Free State province.

"A total of 11 transmitter sites will be switched off between now and February 2019 in that province. Free-to-air broadcaster Etv has started switching off its analogue transmitters in parts of the Eastern Cape, such as Aliwal North and Queenstown," says Molakeng. "The SABC will, in the meantime, start to switch off its transmitters in the Free State by January 2019. Both broadcasters are key stakeholders in the project and remain committed to achieving total analogue switch-off in the country."

Migration sweet spot

Government has identified the BDM programme as a key project to improve the lives of South African citizens. The state is of the view that successful migration will empower it to bridge the digital divide, increase the competitiveness of the economy, create jobs and build social cohesion.

The country's switch to DTT will also make radio frequency spectrum available, which is currently occupied by analogue services, for mobile broadband and broadcasting services.

Molakeng points out households that are on existing satellite television platforms, such as DStv, OpenView or StarSat, do not need to migrate as they are already on digital platforms.

"Registration for receiving government-subsidised decoders, for television viewing households earning below R3 200, will continue across all post offices in the Free State.

"Currently, television signals are broadcast on an analogue platform, which requires a large amount of bandwidth to transmit picture and sound information. This limits the amount of signals that can be transmitted at any time. However, digital signals require much less bandwidth; therefore, more channels can be broadcast at the same time, with brighter, sharper picture and better sound," he concludes.

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