South Africa: Cabinet Approves Policy for Better TV
SA's long-awaited digital migration policy was finally approved by the cabinet this week, paving the way for better-quality TV reception, interactive services and more free-to-air channels.
The cabinet committed R2.45bn to subsidies for poorer households that might not be able to afford the new technology, and said the policy could boost the industrial policy plan, as electronic set-top boxes would be manufactured locally. The SABC and e.tv are supposed to start broadcasting a digital signal on a trial basis from November 1. Until November 2011, both analogue (the present service) and digital signals will be broadcast in a process known as dual illumination.
By 2011, everyone who does not own a digital TV will need set-top boxes to convert analogue signals. These are estimated to cost about R700, and the government will subsidise up to 70% of the cost for the poorest 5-million households with TV sets, government spokesman Themba Maseko said yesterday.
This funding could come from the universal service and access fund, which telecommunications companies and broadcasters contribute to. Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri said the boxes would be manufactured locally, and that technical standards had been agreed on.
The South African STB (set-top box) sector had the potential to manufacture as many as 5,6-million STBs a year when running at full capacity. "This creates an opportunity to build a globally competitive export sector, which is an objective of the industrial policy action plan. It will spur job creation from the total digital migration value chain," she said. Countries must switch to digital television broadcasting by 2015, to meet international standards.
But at least one industry player, e.tv, is sceptical about the targets. "Even on a tight timeline, a digital migration launch will not be possible before the second half of next year," said Bronwyn Keene-Young, e.tv's chief operating officer. She said that though the policy had been approved numerous regulatory procedures had to be followed before digital terrestrial TV could be launched.
Business Day (Johannesburg) 8 August 2008