Nobody - not even Icasa - has any idea of what public TV channels who will have to carry after DTT.

Technology & Convergence

No-one, no-one in South Africa - not the government, not the broadcasters, not the pay TV platforms, not even the regulator Icasa have any idea of who will have to carry what public TV channels during the switch-over of, and after digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Currently South Africa's broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has regulations stating the so-called ''must carry'' clause whereby pay TV operators such as MultiChoice's DStv and On Digital Media's (ODM) TopTV ''must carry'' public free-to-air television channels (for free).

That's why SABC1, SABC2, SABC3 (and e.tv) are included in the bouquets of DStv, TopTV and on M-Net's analogue decoder. So, if in the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting in South Africa - a process known as digital migration - the SABC expands from 3 TV channels to 18 TV channels and e.tv goes from 1 to an as-yet-unannounced set of TV channels, will that entire new channel array have to be carried and be included on DStv, TopTV, and M-Net's DTT set top box?

The new additional public television channels are and will still be after all, public TV channels. And surely after years of DTT discussions, multiple sets of regulations and amendments, and great leadership and vision by Icasa as a strong, able and competent broadcasting regulator, there will be a well-defined set of regulations governing ''must carry'' terms and what ''must carry'' will mean and entail during the start of, and after the switch-over of DTT?

Guess again.

The South African broadcasting industry is completely clueless on ''must carry'' regulations for DTT, in fact, from Icasa side no 'must carry' regulations or clear and specific answers for ''must carry'' under DTT exists. That means that nobody has any idea what will happen, what must happen, or what is required.

''Currently there's regulations that speak to 'must carry' for pay TV operators. Those regulations address the SABC within the current environment with analogue television. It's very arguable whether those regulations have relevance within a digital environment,'' Thato Mahapa, TopTV's senior manager for regulatory affairs, told parliament.

''The subject wasn't treated comprehensively, so there needs to be a very definitive statement on what impact 'must carry' must and will have during the dual illumination period and there after. That's not something that's clear at this stage,'' Thato Mahapa said.

Pay TV operators of course get these channels for free and would get the future additional channels for free as well since they're ''forced'' to carry them. For the pay platforms it's additional content and additional channels - something that attracts subscribers. But it also requires bandwidth that could go to rather have other TV channels on a bouquet. And of course there's the issue of what to do when it's a rubbish channel that an operator don't really want to have - even if it is free.

Asked by the portfolio committee on communications in parliament ''what must be carried after digital migration?'' on the platforms of pay TV operators such as DStv, TopTV and M-Net, Icasa was completely clueless and had no answer. ''We don't have a direct answer,'' said Icasa.

''What we are doing is that currently we have a project to review all the broadcasting related regulations because they are all analogue based. So we are going to review them and align them with the digital environment. 'Must carry' is one of them,'' Icasa said.

A slight tad bit late, wouldn't you say Icasa?