South Africa: Digital TV faces problems

Technology & Convergence

Severe funding challenges could result in many South Africans losing out on public digital television when state-owned signal carrier Sentech switches on its digital signal in November. With just over a month left before Sentech’s digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal is due to go live, slow funding from government could hobble the process.

In its latest annual report, Sentech said it had received only R500-million for the roll- out of its DTT infrastructure and making set- top boxes available.

Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, Sentech’s chief executive, said: “Our budget for the first two years was met by Treasury, but the current shortfall will limit the number of sites we will be able to switch over to on November 1. “This is unfortunate, given the success of phases one and two.”

The company said the government had told it to consider alternative sources of funding, but it would not offer any suggestions. Sentech’s MyWireless and Biznet offerings have proved dismal failures and will be phased out. This was despite the company getting a head-start on competitors such as iBurst.

DTT was one of the prerequisites for South Africa being awarded the 2010 World Cup. It will allow broadcast signals to be compressed and more channels to be broadcast on the same bandwidth. Eight new video channels can be provided on the same bandwidth that one analogue offers.

From March this year, Sentech has been awaiting payment from the Treasury for phase three, which will cover infrastructure acquisition, commissioning of the network, and testing. “The delay in publishing the digital migration policy has also added to the challenge of the project,” Mokone-Matabane said. The company said it would still manage to ensure that the technology reached 80 percent of South Africa by the time the World Cup kicks off.

But critics expressed less faith in the signal distributors. A survey by MyBroadband showed that out of the major telecoms companies in South Africa, consumers had least faith in Sentech thus casting doubts on its ability to meet the roll-out deadline.