South Africa: Doubts Raised About Meeting Looming Digital TV Deadline

Technology & Convergence

In Johannesburg, Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda remains committed to a deadline of migrating from analogue to digital TV broadcasting by November next year, despite the fact that no tender has yet been awarded for the manufacture of the required set-top boxes. SA has until 2015 to move from analogue to digital, under an agreement with the International Telecommunications Union, after which the frequencies will no longer be protected for SA's exclusive use. Democratic Alliance communications spokesman Niekie van der Berg said he doubted that SA would be ready before 2015. Nyanda told delegates from 39 countries at the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association conference in Johannesburg yesterday that South Africa was on track for its digital migration deadline. "We have commenced with the construction of a digital television transmission infrastructure through Sentech . Several operational tests have been conducted by the SABC and I am told that the process has gone smoothly. The rollout of the digital terrestrial infrastructure provides us with an opportunity to meet our digital migration coverage timelines of November 2011," he said. Business Day has been told that a colloquium is to be held at the end of the month between the Department of Communications and industry to discuss software requirements for the set-top boxes which will then be submitted to the Cabinet for approval. The Cabinet will decide on manufacturing standards and how to subsidise 6-million households who cannot afford the set-top box. Only then will tenders be awarded. "Its absolutely impossible for government to reach the November 2011 target," Van der Berg said yesterday. "They are not working enough with the private sector. I do not believe migration will happen before 2015." Van der Berg was also concerned about comments by Mamodupi Mohala, director-general of the department, in a radio interview in which she not only supported the controversial 1% surcharge on income tax proposed in the Public Service Broadcasting Bill to fund the SABC but said the money would be used to fund other commercial stations. Mohala said: "This fund is there for public services, so whether it is a commercial venture for public broadcaster, so long as the objective is the same they should have access to the fund." She said the public had a responsibility to fund endeavours that promote local content. Van der Berg said not only has Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan rejected the proposed tax, but the SABC itself was not in favour of it.