Digital Terrestrial Television back on track

With the international June 2015 deadline looming to migrate broadcasting services from analogue to digital, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has revived the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) migration project and SA back on track.

The Minister said after an extensive consultative process since she assumed office she has called on key industry stakeholders to work with DTT task team to finalise the implementation plan for the DTT road map. These will be followed by a massive awareness campaign across the country to get South Africans ready for the digital migration.

The Minister also announced South Africa will use the Set Top Box (STB) to launch the migration process.  “Uncertainty was created around whether we should continue to rollout the STBs as was initially planned, or lead the South African nation to leapfrog that stage and move directly to iDTVs.

“I am happy to confirm that after my consultations with other key stakeholders, I have reached the conclusion that STBs will still remain as the preferred device to be used for the launch of digital migration in South Africa,” she said during the DTT Implementation Planning Workshop in Pretoria today, 6 November 2014.

However,Muthambi said this did not mean that television sets with integrated digital tuners (iDTVs) were not acceptable. “We simply believe that they will evolve into the second phase of digital migration.” 

In terms of network readiness, the country is standing at 82%, while the broadcasting companies in the country, including the public broadcaster, SABC are ready with regard to content.  

Minister Muthambias recently, delegated the responsibility for driving the digital migration process by a Presidential proclamation. She said the time has come for us to revive the DTT project and inject new energy into it and as a department. “We’ve put measures in place to bring the DTT project back on the government communications priority agenda.

“It is now the time to clear the impasse that has prohibited the nation to embark on the switch-on stage of the digital migration project,” she said.

The need for a DTT programme derives from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) resolution where countries in region 1, consisting of Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, should migrate their broadcasting services from analogue to digital by 17 June 2015.

The main reason for the migration is to release valuable spectrum which can be used for other services. Spectrum is scarce, and it is therefore necessary to make efficient use of the spectrum available for more telecommunications and broadcasting services.

The consequences of failing to meet the 2015 deadline to switch off the analogue terrestrial TV signals is that South Africa will no longer be protected against disruptions of the radio waves that are used for analogue television broadcasts.

Identified challenges delaying the DTT

The Minister singled out policy and legislation for Digital Migration as some of the challenges delaying the project.

“As government, we’ve this ultimate responsibility to develop a broadcasting policy environment which takes into account the people’s constitutional rights of access to broadcasting services. We can assure you that we will develop a policy that aims to create a conducive environment for smooth migration from analogue to digital. We’ve a duty to migrate citizens as smoothly as possible

“It is my firm understanding that policy clarity is the key to unlock all the other critical issues of implementation of the DTT project,” she said.

The second challenge  is  whether to adopt a Control Access System or not on the STBs. This matter has been a major source of contention in the country, which has even led to court challenges.

The issue of Control Access or No Control Access will have a wide-ranging impact on the future of broadcasting, communications and on the majority of citizens in the country. “At this point, I have conducted significant consultations and I have also taken into account the developments that led to the impasse and the stagnation.

“I am close to reaching finality, which I will be able to announce after consultation with Cabinet. I have prioritised that this matter is served on Cabinet before year-end.”

Minister Muthambi proposed to the delegates from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), E-TV, Multi-Choice, Sentech and Icasa, among others, that a working group or task team be established to work with the departmental DTT project management team to finalise the DTT Road Map Implementation Plan.

Delegates at the gathering also discussed issues of network readiness, regulatory aspects, standards, manufacturing and distribution capabilities, content readiness and public awareness.

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