South Africa: Black Business Takes on Icasa to Reverse Multiplex allocation to M-Net


A Black business consortium is to serve papers on the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) opposing the publication of digital terrestrial television (DTT) regulations governing the allocation of additional digital channels.

The National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) consortium is opposing the allocation of 50% of Multiplex 3 to M-Net, saying this would extend MultiChoice's monopoly to digital terrestrial television.

The digital switch time-frame is from November last year to November 2011, although Icasa indicated on Friday it would engage with Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda with a view to extending this. Nafcoc says Icasa should have allocated some of the spectrum to black companies, and regulated to ensure the sustainability of these black-owned pay-TV businesses.

M-Net and MultiChoice, the operator of DStv, are both owned by media group Naspers . They enjoy a monopoly on pay-TV in SA, as other licencees -- On Digital Media (ODM), Telkom Media and Walking on Water TV (WOWtv) -- have not yet been launched. All three, however, have indicated their interest in DTT.

If M-Net conducts a "hard switchover" within 12 months by swapping customers' analogue decoders with digital decoders, it will be rewarded with 50% of a multiplex for its own use. A multiplex is a technical term for the transmission of several TV channels on one frequency. The number of channels that can be carried in this way depends on the technology used, but M-Net is likely to end up with four to eight channels altogether.

The commercial launch of DTT was originally scheduled for November 1 last year, but the Cabinet approved digital migration policy only last year, delaying the publication of regulations governing the switch- over, including the DTT regulations published by Icasa on Friday. Icasa spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela said he could not comment as the authority had not received any correspondence from the consortium.

"What we did was right," Sekgoela said. "If we did not think it was right we would not have published the regulations."

Icasa councillor Robert Nkuna said on Friday the remaining 50% of the disputed multiplex would be awarded to "interested parties", including licencees such as ODM, Telkom Media and WOWtv, once M-Net had completed moving its customers to a digital signal.

See story below in Regulation and Policy

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