State to act on set-top boxes

Communications minister Yunus Carrim has told parliament that government has not yet made a final decision on whether to mandate the inclusion of an encryption system in the set-top boxes South Africans will need to watch digital television. By Duncan McLeod.

Yunus Carrim

Yunus Carrim

Government has not reached a final decision on whether to include an encryption system in state-subsidised digital television set-top boxes, despite a recent statement by the SABC that it no longer supports proposals, advanced by rival e.tv, that the boxes should include such a system.

This is according to communications minister Yunus Carrim, who was responding to questions in parliament on Tuesday from Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn.

“Is the SABC board deciding for government? The answer is a categorical ‘no’. It cannot,” Carrim said. “The SABC, as important as it is, is one of several stakeholders in this regard. It cannot decide policy for its shareholder. But what it says has to be taken seriously.”

Shinn said at the weekend that SABC acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng had “unilaterally” decided on government policy when it announced last month that it would not support the inclusion of encryption, also known as conditional access, in the set-top boxes South Africans will need to access digital terrestrial television.

In July, the SABC agreed, in a commercial deal with MultiChoice, that it would not carry any of its free-to-air channels over a system that uses conditional access. Encryption is typically used by pay-TV operators to restrict viewing to paying subscribers, but e.tv has said it has many benefits for free-to-air broadcasters, too, which will allow them to compete more effectively with MultiChoice’s DStv.

The SABC may have become a pawn in a war between MultiChoice and e.tv over conditional access, with the pay-TV operator dead against taxpayers funding a conditional access system and the commercial free-to-air broadcaster arguing strongly in favour of the idea.

Now, Carrim has said that cabinet will decide soon if it will support conditional access. Its decision will be based on a number of considerations, he told parliament. Among these will be which approach will best protect the local electronics industry and create jobs and also how “indigenous entrepreneurs” can benefit from the roll-out of set-top boxes.

Government will also consider how to allow new entrants into a pay-TV sector “to challenge a monopoly, but not at the expense of the set-top box subsidy”.

Two further considerations are what will be the “fastest, simplest and most effective way to move forward” given the country is more than five years behind schedule in migrating from analogue to digital terrestrial television, and which likely court challenge to cabinet’s decision — from MultiChoice or e.tv — will prove the “least strenuous” for government to defend.

In replying to Shinn on the SABC’s decision not to support conditional access, Carrim said his predecessor, Dina Pule, had told parliament that she was considering reviewing government support of encryption. “Moreover,” he said, in June she wrote to the SABC to “make it very clear that she is seriously moving in that direction”.

“The 19 June letter gave [the SABC] the go-ahead. When I came in [as the new minister] on 10 July, that contract was already agreed to. That’s neither here nor there, because at the end of the day the government has to decide what is in the best interests of the public. Where there is a difference between itself and the SABC, government will obviously prevail,” Carrim said.

He said he would report back to parliament early in the new year.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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  • CouchPotato

    Dictionary for ordinary taxpayers:

    “indigenous entrepreneurs” – Existing BEE Tenderpreneurs.

    “conditional access support” – Tv License Enforcement Support.
    “new entrants” – Unqualified Gov Cronies and/or family members.
    “Dina Pule” – System Error
    “SABC” – System Error

  • CouchPotato

    Dictionary for ordinary taxpayers:

    “indigenous entrepreneurs” – Existing BEE Tenderpreneurs.

    “conditional access support” – Tv License Enforcement Support.

    “new entrants” – Unqualified Gov Cronies and/or family members.

    “Digita terrestrial television” – Searching….. NOT FOUND.

    “Dina Pule” – System Error

    “SABC” – System Error

  • Davebee

    Remember the most scary words in English according to Ronald Reagan?
    “We are here from the government and we are here to help you”
    Sadly it’s ten times worse under a regime that is hell bent on practicing cronyism and racism in the market place AT THE SAME TIME.

  • Antonio

    Why bother? Do we really need to spend billions on terrestrial television? SABC and eTV are available on:
    1. Sentech FREEvision with so many channels. These set top boxes are cheap and you can watch 18 plus television channels right now – today.
    2. OpenView is another FREE to air offering. Also with cheap set top boxes and a wide variety of TV channels.
    3. DSTV has an offer for small change. DSTV should make these numbers available. Thousands of families are using DSTV Easyview for R29-00 per month.
    4. TopTV/StarSAT will also come to market for R20-00 per month – plus a Top Up Prepaid option to watch more channels as and when.

    Use these billions for education? Use the billions for health services?

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    You just answered your own question. All of the above require a separate STB and/or subscription, and will forever. A standard DVB-T2 DTT tuner is already being built in to TVs today, and will make it into all new TVs in time at no extra expense to the end user. You have to think long term about this.

  • Antonio

    People are buying Sentech FREEview, FREE OpenView, DSTV Easyview and TopTV by the thousands. It is cheap and offers a wide variety of channels. There are premium channels on DSTV Easyview at R29-00. TopTV and FREE Openview will add premium TV channels as well. And it is available today at Games, Dions, Ellies, SpaceTV or any TV installer in remote villages.

    DVB-T2 is gonna take a long time – and billions of Rands. The market might be filled by DVB-S2 at the time DVB-T2 launches. What a waste of money.

  • d0dja

    Interestingly, at a session at GIBS last week, Carim repeatedly said that the reason that SA was so far behind on digital migration was because of the “legal wrangling of the broadcasters”. Scapegoat, anyone?

  • Chris

    Fire Hlaudi!

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Repeating yourself doesn’t make the points valid, sorry.

  • Mark Williams

    The answer to this problem is quite simple.South Africa cannot afford multiple DTT boxes.
    A free to air receiver with cam and card facilities should be included so each broadcaster can manage their subscriber base.The satellite people realised this long ago and have receivers with 2 slots available for accepting different encryption systems..
    We do not have this in South Africa and it is about time we did.A receiver that has no encryption capability is useless.What happens if government want to use DTT for closed circuit purposes,particularly communication or training? They can’t! 1 box is all you need.

  • Antonio

    1BOX is the way to go!! But DSTV will not play along.

    SABC can deliver many more services if SABC has a CA platform. But SABC signed CA away in the contract between SABC and DSTV.

    SABC is going to sign away a return path as well.

  • Mark Williams

    SABC is a parastatal and falls under the DOC.DSTV is a private company and should not be singled out for special treatment.ETV also falls into this category.ALL parties must subscribe to broadcasting legislation decided on by DOC.They have the final say.The sooner our broadcasters understand this the better.. .

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Oh, if government provides a free CA system, I’m sure DSTV would play along – why wouldn’t they sell their services aggressively on the platform? They have a bigger war-chest and all the content agreements already.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Wouldn’t it be best to deliver the basic services over an unencrypted system, and then the guys that want subscription services get together, agree on a standard box like you describe, and sell that? That way, people can buy a TV, it’ll have the tuner built in it already (Duncan said he got a TV the other day, and it had DVB-T2 built in, so they’re already doing it for free), then o they can pick up free channels for free (exactly like they would today), and if they want a pay-channel, they buy “the box”, and then subscribe to whoever they want.

  • Mark Williams

    Hello Greg that could be an option for the consumer.For the broadcaster the best option is the one that I have described. Freeview in England has one box that is used by all the broadcasters..In the digital world technology changes constantly this is why it is best to give all viewers the same options from implimentation of the service.

  • Marcan

    You are too late, Sentech spent already R2-3 Billion on fitting their towers with DTT transmission equipment, and I believe produce signal in many areas. So the best is to quickly decide to leave the signal unencrypted, so every standard DVB-T2 STB can be used, locally produced or imported. And we can benefit from the fact that ever more new TVs will have included DVB-T2 in their sets.
    The arguments that we need CA for checking on TV licenses is invalid, as satellite services have never asked for TV licenses, and are most likely refusing in the future to do so. Anyway only 30-35% of households with TV own a license now. Next step in transforming public broadcasting is to scrap the TV licenses altogether.
    The argument that we need to control local production and subsidise receivers for the poor is totally ludicrous, as for the creation of only a few hundred jobs R 2.7 -5 Billion of tax money is needed. I also feel there is no real need to for subsidy, receiving TV for close to Mahala should not be an essential government function.
    So to summarize my suggestions of “transformation”
    1-No encryption on DTT
    2-No subsidy for STBs for the poor
    3-No government controlled program of local manufacturing
    4-Scrap TV licenses
    5- Privatise SABC and Sentech totally in 2 or 3 years time.
    After that, we might need only a strong and independent ICASA, and abolish the Parliamentary Portflio Committee and the whole DoC. Savings for the taxpayers : many Billions a year.

  • Joe Black

    If they are having problems deciding this then I’m having problems deciding whether this is a democracy or a communist state.

    What utter rubbish. These devices are readily available and very cheap. In a free country the government would not have tried to profit not further its own agenda (for propaganda) from the this type of roll-out and would have allowed 3rd party devices. More people could then afford them. Less people would need to be subsidised. And the whole bloody thing would have cost the country less and would have been done by now.

    Utter… Utter fail!

  • SC

    About 4 years ago when DVB-T was the SA standard consumers went and bought TV’s with built in DVB-T receivers. I wonder how well they will work on the new SA DTT DVB-T2 network :) The answer is not at all so these consumers are now stuck with obsolete technology and will have to buy new TV’s with built in receivers or most likely buy a Set Top Box. By the way the built in DVB-T2 receiver is not free unless your definition of free is different to the norm.

    Which do you think is cheaper a STB or a nice flat screen TV with a built in DVB-T2 receiver?

    The STB is a signal converter and its low cost (compared to a new flat screen TV!) allows it to be replaced as the technology evolves (DVB-T to DVB-T2, MPEG-2 to MPEG-4…). It is for this reason that the sale of STB’s world wide is not slowing down but actually increasing.

    Our DTT in SA is unique in that more than half the TV households will be getting a subsidized STB and a free antenna and installation, all funded by the tax payer (not the SABC as they would have everyone believe!).

    This will cost the SA taxpayer R6Bn or more making it the single biggest electronic event ever in the history of South Africa. The money spent is an investment and like any investment if the overall plan is not sound then the investment will not yield the desired return.

    The configuration of the DTT network, of which the STB’s form one of the components, should be done as on the basis of the longer term viability of this network to ensure the tax payers investment yields the desired return. Not having some form of encryption (CA) on the network is like having a car without a spare when you get a flat tyre on a desolated road in the middle of nowhere, useless.

    The only informed entity in South Africa that does not want CA is Multichoice which is understandable as this will eliminate any competition from smaller new broadcasters or make the barrier to entry prohibitive. Sure the consumer can go and buy new Broadcaster X STB but what if the consumer is in the 5.5M subsidized group, they could be excluded but if they had a capable STB then this would not be an issue.

    We need to think of all SA’s population not just ourselves who may be in a fortunate position.

    With the advent of digital TV and decoders SA will have to cope with 12M new electronic devices that will consume between 5W and 8W from the power grid, this will be between 60MW and 100MW. We have a power problem now and if every broadcaster requires a different STB then this figure will increase. The case for a more common platform speaks for itself.

    Having a cost effective CA in the SA DTT STB has other benefits too which are beneficial to the SA economy. The CA system planned up until recently was a software based card-less system which made it cost effective.

    The ideal scenario for the DTT platform is to have one STB that is capable of de-scrambling all Free to View channels using a cost effective card-less based CA system which allows new broadcasting entrants who may offer free or premium content in the future.

    Cool heads with a far reaching vision are required here not just those in it for short term gain and I hope that sanity will prevail.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    >About 4 years ago when DVB-T was the SA standard consumers went and bought TV’s with built in DVB-T receivers

    Exactly. This is why we need a standard ASAP, and it has to be an international standard. By your own admission, the TV providers were quick to include these in their TVs.

    >By the way the built in DVB-T2 receiver is not free unless your definition of free is different to the norm

    It is free. Or, if you want to be pedantic, “no extra cost”. All TVs come with a built-in tuner. I’ve done my research; when a TV with a DVB-T2 tuner comes out to replace another non-DVB-T2 model, it’s cheaper or the same cost, just like any electronic device. It’s included in the cost – it’s free in the same way the buttons on the front are free. Sure, you’re paying for it as part of the price of the device, but to argue you’re paying extra for the buttons is just silly.
    Can you go out right now and buy a TV cheaper that doesn’t have a tuner in it?

    >Which do you think is cheaper a STB or a nice flat screen TV with a built in DVB-T2 receiver?

    A stupid question. I’ve never seen anyone suggest everybody buys new TVs. The idea of having a tuner in the TV that can handle the DTT system means that government will only have to fund one round of STB’s, and not set up an STB industry that will be producing custom equipment for the rest of time. There’s better things our tax money should be doing.

    > if every broadcaster requires a different STB then this figure will increase

    Again, you haven’t read the comments – we need to do what they did in UK – the people who want to provide paid-for content should get together and make a standard CA system, and BUSINESS will subsidize it, not the TAXPAYER.

    > …does not want CA is Multichoice which is understandable as this will eliminate any competition from smaller new broadcasters or

    You’re dead wrong here. Nobody would benefit more from a CA system than Multichoice. They have the content, systems and infrastructure to deploy an offering on a state-sponsored CA system that would make them billions and be able to undercut any new competition. It’s a far better idea to have a consortium of providers have their own STB that Multichoice can’t get access to, and share the costs of CA that way. The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to think Multichoice’s resistance to CA is a double-bluff. It’s obvious that everyone’s going to want the opposite of Multichoice, so everyone’s doing all the hard work for them, getting a free CA system out there! All they have to do is make sure their billing system can handle the millions of new subscribers that will come flooding in.

    >Cool heads with a far reaching vision are required here not just those in it for short term gain

    I agree, but we need a long-term vision that paints the government out of the picture. They need to kickstart it with STB’s, but in the long term we want those tuners built in to TVs for free, and the maintenance of them taken over by private enterprise, at their expense, which they’ve been doing for decades with the current built-in tuners.

  • Marcan

    Sorry, SC completely disagree with you on your support of CA and the Government program of manufacturing and distribution of STBs. I am 100% with Greg on this on, as by far this will serve the best interests of the majority of Seffricans, the consumers and taxpayers the in the long run.
    The first amount mentioned for subsidising the STBs for the poor was R 2.45 billion in Apr 2012, July 2012 R 2.7 Billion was stated, and later even R 5 Billion. Now recently I read another article on this subject, http://www.iol.co.za/business/companies/digital-tv-migration-needs-more-cash-1.1597996#.UoDBg_mmjSC, where it is also mentioned that the DoC even intends to render aerials and installation, but the original approved R2.4 Billion is not enough. The impression from this article is actually that the DoC plans to give the STBs as Freebies.

    But also let’s have a look at the numbers you gave. According to the 2011 census there are about 11.5 million households with a TV in SA. Multichoice has more than 4.5 Million subscribers on their Select, Family, Compact and Premium packages, and this number excludes even the probably considerable number of persons on their most affordable Easyview package AFAIK. This Easyview package is the only one of Dstv that will directly compete for marketshare with the planned DTT and existing OVHD and Freevision satellite offerings. Another 200,000 are connected to Top/Starsat, so probably only a maximum of 6 million households will need a STB, of which around 4.5 m might be eligible for a freebie or a subsidy. So we are not talking about 12 m new electronic devices, but for the most half of that.
    You make an interesting point that when more STBs or decoders are needed per household, with a standby power use of 5-8 W, and an active power consumption of 18-50W a lot more electricity would be used countrywide.
    I posses a Dstv decoder with Irdeto encryption, an old Vivid decoder with Nagravision CA, a Top TV decoder with NDS CA and a FTA (Free to Air) Sat receiver with a small on/off rocker switch at the back. The Vivid and Top are not in active use at the moment. The Dstv takes ages , 3-4 minutes in reality to boot up when switched off completely, checking subscriber status, etc, the Vivid used to boot up considerably faster maybe 60-90 secs, the Top TV with NDS encryption boots up when switched off at the mains in a very acceptable 15-20 secs, and the cheapest of all, the FTA receiver without CA and a handy on/off switch in 2 or 3 secs.
    So in daily practice almost nobody will switch of their Dstv decoder completely, many will not even bother to put it on standby. While I switch off most of the times the FTA receiver completely at the back when finished watching.
    So a DTT receiver without encryption will for sure boot up in just a few seconds, so it only lends more weight to the argument of having DTT STBs without CA and maybe under pressure of Melusi Gigaba and Brian Dames have them obligatory fitted with a on/off switch costing only a few rands each. That should be about the only Gov intervention of the roll out of DTT STBs.
    The present State budget still has a considerable 4.6% (or 4.2% using the newer accounting methods) shortfall acc to the medium term budget recently, well above the internationally recognised maximum of 3%. R 100 Billion is needed of taxpayers money yearly to finance State debts. So to spend R3-6 Billion on rollout of DTT should be considered as a wasteful and fruitless expenditure, in terms of the Auditor General.
    DVB-T2 decoders from the open market are available in Kenya and the UK from about R 500 upwards.

  • Toni Benoni

    So once they decide what to do, it will have to go to tender. the loser will challenge it, it will be late. then like etolls anc interests will be exposed, then there will be a fight, then…. ti will be 2025….

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