Botswana to up TV and radio coverage to 97+% of population, Namibia may follow

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The Government of Botswana has made a commitment that it will up the transmission coverage for both radio and television to 97+% of the population. The work to cost the initiative was carried out using mapping software that allowed the consultants employed to identify the current areas of coverage for both radio and TV. Using this baseline mapping as a starting point, the consultants were then able to identify the costs of the new transmitters to reach the increased population target. A similar study is being undertaken in Namibia, again with a view to extending transmission coverage.

As elsewhere in Africa, Botswana currently has 80% of its population who can receive radio transmissions from the state broadcaster and 64% who can receive television transmissions. These figures represent the top-end of transmission coverage for Africa as there are many countries where television is not widely available outside the main cities. Supply of electricity is a significant limiting factor on television ownership.

Using mapping software, ICT Consultants who were employed by the Government were able to look at the locations of current transmitters and the strength of transmission signals. ICT Consultant’s Tsietsi Motsoela said the most difficult part of the process was to uncover what antenna patterns had been used as this information had largely been misplaced after the initial set-up.

The Government of Botswana wanted to assess the costs of covering 95-100% of its population with both TV and radio coverage. The proposed 42 TV transmitters (38 new and 4 existing) will cover 97.16% of the population, effectively nearly complete coverage. The 42 TV Transmitters (38 new and 4 existing) will cover 98.98% of the population. The areas currently not covered tend to be small villages, of which there are a large number in the 500-1000 population range. The consultants assumed that electricity was available in villages over 1,000 under the Maitlamo rural electrification initiative.

Lack of electrical power was a key factor in siting the proposed transmitters. As Motsoela observed:”One of the challenges is the lack of power in rural areas. You can find a good physical location (for a transmitter) but there is no power near. So you have to make sure you site close to existing infrastructure.”

The total cost of implementing the extended coverage scheme is US$25.75 million, of which an additional US$5 million would need to be spent annually on maintenance and US$0.5 million on manpower costs. The equipment costs would be US$16.8 million. The Department of Broadcasting Services already has plans to install a new Medium Wave Transmitter at Mmathethe, and to relocate the Sebele MW Transmitter to Takatokwane. But thus far the extension plan has not been implemented. With these changes, radio coverage would reach 80.89% of the population. Existing TV transmission covers 64.36% of the population.

Alongside this coverage extension, two private radio stations are working together to extend their own transmission areas. These stations had discussions with the Government about co-locating transmission equipment but were unable to reach agreement, partly because of the costs of sharing high-power transmitters.

In Namibia, ICT Consultants won a similar tender from the Namibian Communications Commission. In this case, the Government has not set itself a percentage target of the population to be covered but wants to examine options for reaching different levels of population and also at how transmission coverage might also be extended for the private sector.

Over the last ten years, both transmission coverage for radio and radio ownership has been extended to usually around 75% of the population. However, TV remains the medium of urban areas despite again a significant increase in the level of TV ownership and access. Without something approaching full coverage, there is the danger that there will be two classes of African: those who have broadcast media choice and are relatively well informed and those who have little access to broadcast media and much less well informed.

See the before and after coverage maps generated for the study.

Botswana - Existing FM radio coverage

Botswana : Projected radio coverage

Botswana : Existing TV coverage

Botswana : Projected TV coverage