South Africa: Dept Clears Pay TV Licensing, Digital Migration Confusion

Regulation & Policy

Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri has never called for the suspension of satellite and cable broadcasting service licences, the department has stated. Spokesperson for the department Albi Modise told BuaNews Thursday that the proposal, contained in the Draft Broadcasting Digital Migration Strategy was made by the Digital Migration Working Group (DMWG) and not Dr Matsepe-Casaburri.

Digital Migration involves the transition of the country's broadcasting system from analogue to digital to enable broadcasters to have better capacity to improve and diversify their services. Other benefits include a large number of television channels that could be licensed, better video and sound quality and the transmission of an increased amount of data.

Modise said the problem was that people were linking the minister to the proposal even though it was made by the Working Group. "The working group made a proposal after their own research work and consultations. This was not influenced by the department in any way," Mr Modise said. The group comprised industry experts, he said, from the SA Broadcast Corporation (SABC) and Sentech.

This comes after the DMWG proposed in March the Digital Migration Conference that no new broadcasters should be licensed on the Digital Terrestrial Television platform until the digital switchover is completed in 2008.

Spokesperson for the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) Sekgoela Sekgoela said the body had received about 18 applications for the licences. Applicants, Mr Sekgoela said, included Telkom Media, Sentech and Multichoice.

Earlier the Director General for the Department Lyndall Shope-Mafole said in a statement that there was a confusion regarding the licensing process and the strategy. "At no point has the minister proposed that there be a moratorium on pay television licensing process," Ms Shope-Mafole said. The licensing of broadcasting services, she said, was and continued to be an Icasa process.

Earlier this year Cabinet approved a three year dual illumination period during which both the analogue and digital signals will be transmitted starting from the 1 November 2008. This, according to the department, was essential to ensure that the public had some time to acquire Set Top Boxes (STBs). The STBs are needed for an analogue television set to be able to receive the digital signal as it would convert digital signals into analogue. Consumers are expected to buy these decoders, which have been estimated at R400 each, in order to receive digital broadcasting services.

However the working group estimates that approximately 4.4 million television households in the country will not afford a basic STB decoder. The working group has therefore recommended that government consider subsidising consumers.