South Africa: ICASA to license M-Net competitor

Regulation & Policy

ICASA released its finalised digital terrestrial TV (DTT) regulations on Friday, after almost a year in the making. These could see M-Net face a commercial competitor in just over a year. To make way for a new competitor, M-Net will have to migrate to its own “dedicated” multiplex, which will free up its old space for a new player.

ICASA says there is a need for more competition and hopes the new multiplex will help to facilitate it. “The authority is convinced more capacity is needed to bring about competition in this sector,” the regulations explain.

However, the new licence relies on M-Net having to perform a hard switchover to its new multiplex within the next 12 months. It has also been asked to switch off frequencies it used for its community services network.

The regulator will also only allow M-Net to apply for another channel after the end of the dual-illumination period. “In preparation for the introduction of competition, M-Net will initially be allocated 50% of its multiplex and can only apply for an additional channel at the end of the dual switch-over,” adds ICASA.

While MultiChoice's DSTV also expects competition soon, it has not been included in the DTT regulations, because it is a satellite and not a terrestrial service. Broadcasters will have to broadcast in both digital and analogue for some time, so M-Net will have a long wait for its additional channel. This dual-illumination period was expected to end in November 2011; however, the regulator has noted in the latest regulations that it will advise the communications minister to extend this timeframe.

M-Net and eTV will also be given the opportunity to apply for an ECNS licence, which will give them the rights to build and run their own networks. Companies like Sentech traditionally carry the broadcasters' signals across their networks.

Competition will not be limited to the spectrum freed by M-Net, as the regulator says there is also room for eTV competition. The regulator says once the dual-illumination period is complete, interested parties can apply for a licence to sit on the same multiplex as eTV.

The free-to-air broadcaster has been allocated 60% of its multiplex, and has been given the right to apply for additional capacity once the country's TV services are fully digital. SABC has been granted 100% of its multiplex, although it must set aside 10% for Christian broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting Network, a channel in the Eastern Cape region.