E.tv judgment: Pule mulling options

Communications minister Dina Pule must still decide whether she will file an application for leave to appeal against a judgment handed down in December in broadcaster e.tv’s favour. By Duncan McLeod.

Communications minister Dina Pule

Communications minister Dina Pule

The department of communications is still mulling its options following e.tv’s high-profile defeat of communications minister Dina Pule in the high court shortly before Christmas in a case related to which entities will manage the conditional access system for digital terrestrial television.

E.tv took the minister to court in September accusing her of exercising powers she doesn’t have when, in May, she appointed state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech to be the party responsible for managing the set-top box conditional access system, also known as the control system. Among other things, this system will ensure compliance with a minimum set of specifications for set-top boxes and prevent grey imports.

Until Pule’s decision to give the job to Sentech, it had been assumed that the SABC, e.tv and future free-to-air broadcasters would manage the conditional access system.

South Gauteng high court acting judge CG Pretorius found that Pule’s decision to instruct Sentech to assume responsibility for the system was “unlawful” and awarded costs to e.tv. The judge found that the minister had “no legal power to prescribe or make binding decisions relating to set-top box control” and added that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) was the only entity entitled to regulate the system.

Pule’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, tells TechCentral that the ministry has “noted that the decision of the court has far-reaching implications for pay and new free-to-air broadcasters regarding the set-top box control system”.

Industry players will be hoping the dispute can be resolved outside of the courts. Further legal wrangles could again delay the already long-delayed migration from analogue to digital television. South Africa has agreed with the International Telecommunication Union that it will switch off analogue broadcasts by no later than June 2015.

Telecommunications operators are also watching developments with a keen eye as they want access to the “digital dividend” band around 800MHz, which will be freed up when broadcasters switch off their analogue signals. This band is ideally suited for building fourth-generation broadband networks, particularly outside the country’s urban centres where higher frequencies mean higher costs of deployment.

Qoza says the ministry is considering how it will proceed. “We are consulting Icasa and the broadcasters on the matter and will announce our decision in due course,” he says. “This matter is receiving our urgent attention.”  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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