Sentech to spend R1.3bn on digital TV

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State signal provider Sentech plans to spend R1.3 billion over the next three years to move the country's broadcasting network from analogue to digital.

The state-owned entity anticipates having provided coverage of the European DVB-T2 standard to 60% of SA's population by the end of March. The bulk of South Africans will be able to tune into digital television by the time SA intends turning off analogue signal at the end of 2013.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan, in his budget speech, presented this afternoon, said Sentech will receive funding over the medium-term expenditure framework period for dual-illumination of analogue and digital television, and for digital broadcasting infrastructure.

SA initially intended turning on digital television in April, but this has been postponed to the third quarter of this year as set-top box manufacturers indicated they would not be ready on time.

According to the Budget Review booklet, handed out this morning to accompany the speech, Sentech plans to spend R1.3 billion over the next three years to move SA into a digital broadcasting era.

Sentech has been allocated an additional R141 million in the 2013/14 year, which will be used to purchase 30 television and 30 radio transmitters. A total of R643 million has been set aside for dual-illumination of both digital and analogue signal during the migration period.

Digital viewing

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will also receive funding to make sure analogue programmes are available in digital format.

The review says a play-out centre will be established and technology provided for a digital library for the SABC. The broadcaster will receive R138 million as part of a total allocation of R478.6 million.

Between 2008/9 and 2011/12, significant funding was made available for digitisation to meet government's target of switching off analogue signal in December 2013, notes the Estimates of National Expenditure.

During this time, the Department of Communications transferred R649.9 million to Sentech for digital migration, while an additional R220 million was allocated to modernise infrastructure for dual-illumination. In addition, R962.7 million was allocated to the SABC to implement its infrastructure modernisation programme and IT plan.

Funding decoders

Subsidies for set-top boxes, administered through the Universal Service and Access Fund, will total R710 million over the medium-term expenditure framework on top of the adjusted appropriation of R220 million in the 2011/12 financial year.

About 10 million households will need set-top boxes to continue watching television when analogue is turned off. However, manufacturers are waiting for the department to finalise several key issues before production can start.

According to the Estimates of National Expenditure, the communications department submitted the set-top box manufacturing sector development strategy, the subsidy scheme for set-top boxes for poor households that own televisions, as well as the local and digital content development strategy to Cabinet for approval during the 2011/12 financial year.

Nicola Mawson

Nicola Mawson is a contributor who hates corruption of any sort. She does not drive a million-rand Beemer and would rather walk.

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