Digital TV has new launch date

Communications minister Dina Pule has promised that digital terrestrial television will commence in SA in December and wants the migration process to completed in just 12 months. Will this be the latest in a long list of missed deadlines? By Craig Wilson.

Communications minister Dina Pule

Communications minister Dina Pule says digital terrestrial television broadcasting will finally be switched on in December, kicking off a long-delayed period of migration and “dual illumination” where both analogue and digital signals will coexist.

Pule made the announcement at her department’s “proof-of-concept” launch in the Northern Cape on Wednesday. The event was originally meant to signal the start of dual-illumination before the deadline was shifted again.

The purpose of the dual-illumination period is to give consumers time to buy the set-top boxes they will require to receive the new digital signals. Government has said it will subsidise 70% of the cost of boxes for the 5m poorest households.

Pule says she wants the migration to be completed by December 2013, just more than 12 months from now.

Switch-off of analogue signals is meant to take place no later than June 2015, though some industry experts argue that, considering the numerous delays to the process already, this deadline seems optimistic. But government says it will meet the deadline and is on course to do so and, in fact, Pule wants analogue signals to be switched off in December 2013, giving the country time to ensure it takes care of “any unforeseen hiccups in the process”.

It’s crucial that broadcasters stop analogue broadcasts as soon as possible so that valuable spectrum that will be freed up through the migration can be assigned to telecommunications operators to provide wireless broadband services, including in underserviced areas.

There are multiple reasons SA is so far behind in switching to digital – full migration was originally meant to happen in November 2011. They include a year spent debating whether the country should adopt the European or Japanese-Brazilian standard for digital broadcasts.

And the obstacles keep coming. E.tv’s lawsuit against Pule, which accuses her acting unlawfully in appointing state-owned signal distributor Sentech to manage the conditional access system for digital television, could once again delay the launch of commercial services.

E.tv and the SABC had previously been charged with implementing the control system and awarding the necessary tender.

The conditional access system will ensure compliance with a minimum set of specifications for set-top boxes and prevent grey imports. It will also allow for individual set-top boxes to be switched on and off, preventing the use of stolen set-top boxes.

E.tv says the question of which parties are responsible for managing set-top box control has to be finalised well before the commencement of digital migration.

Nevertheless, Pule says that contracts for the manufacture of set-top boxes will be awarded at the end of this month, with the first deliveries expected by 30 November.

Pule claims the migration process will create a large number of jobs across a range of industries. “We envisage that 800 jobs will be created in the manufacturing industry,” she says. “Twenty thousand youth will be trained in the installation and maintenance of set-top boxes and, ultimately, we trust that up to 6 000 youth will be entrepreneurial and run their businesses.”

According to the minister, a further 4 000 call centre operators will be employed to deal with queries relating to the set-top boxes and the Post Office will have to employ 500 additional staff to assist with their distribution.  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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