The Big Switch: Digital migration policy to be published next week

MARCH 13, 2015

The Department of Communications (DoC) is set to publish the final Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) policy in the Government Gazette next week.

DoC management presented the country’s state of readiness to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting to a Joint Portfolio Committee on Communication and Telecommunications and Postal Services in Parliament on Tuesday.

The new policy seeks to clarify the use a control system in Set Top Boxes (STBs) that will enable households to switch from analogue to digital broadcast signals.

Last week, Cabinet approved the Broadcast Digital Amendment Policy, which makes provision for the inclusion of a control system in STBs and endorsed commencement of the country’s digital migration.

The department’s Acting Director-General Donald Liphoko said: “Government has worked and will continue to work with all stakeholders in the Economic Cluster to ensure coordination of efforts and resources towards achieving a common objective”.

Liphoko attributed the delay in digital migration to disagreements about the use of the control system in STBs, which some free-to-air broadcasters had suggested it would negatively impact on their content.

DTT Programme Head Solly Mokoetle said progress has been made regarding STBs in the country.

“Government has assured Parliament that Cabinet’s endorsement of an inclusion of a control system aims to protect its multibillion rand investment in the STBs from use outside of South Africa and that broadcasters who seek conditional access related to the encryption of their broadcast content may do so at their own cost.

“Our responsibility is to protect the STBs [in which] government is investing. The issues beyond the box or the encryption of the signal are not our domain. Those who want to encrypt the signal or content so that they give rights to watch certain programmes can do that and they can make their investment in that area.”

The big switch

The department has already begun engaging entities on aligning plans to the Cabinet approved policy. Sentech is almost ready to distribute a digital signal while the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is gearing up to provide universal service coverage and new channels.  

While the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) finalises new DTT regulations, the South African Post Office (SAPO) is expected to implement plans to distribute the STBs. 

The Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) is finalising the criteria of TV households that will benefit from government’s 100% subsidised STBs.

Together with GCIS, entities and stakeholders alike will embark on a countrywide public awareness campaign on digital migration to ensure that South Africans switch to digital.

“The post office has presence in every community of the country and this will help us with the distribution of STBs. We will also be assisted by GCIS as it already has established provincial distribution centres throughout the country,” said Liphoko.

Government will provide free STBs to more than five million poor television household owners and prioritise distribution to border region areas of the country to avoid and minimise signal interference between those regions and neighbouring countries.

All television owning households that rely on the old analogue signal will require STBs or decoders to receive digital television.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, in consultation with Cabinet, will determine the digital signal switch-on and analogue signal switch-off dates, which will be announced soon. –