South Africa: DA Seeks Clarity On Imports of Set-Top Boxes for Digital Television

Investment

The Minister of Communications, Ms Dina Pule must state clearly and unambiguously whether foreign-made set-top boxes (STBs) or digital converters can be imported to and sold in South Africa.

STB or digital converters switch analogue television signals to digital and will have to be used by viewers to switch their signals in the digital migration process.

“I have today written to the minister asking her to clarify comments she made during a Sunday Live interview on SABC 1, in which she indicated that STBs or digital converters manufactured outside South Africa would be allowed onto the local market.

If so, the minister needs to state clearly whether these imported devices will have to conform to the same standards and offer the same facilities as those being prescribed under the contentious STB Manufacturing Sector Development Strategy that was approved by Cabinet in March 2012.

This strategy, which sets technical standards and will approve which companies participate in the manufacturing programme, has been punted by government as a major small business booster and job creator.

The approved specifications for locally made STBs currently does not allow for the converters to enable TV sets to be used as screens that can connect to the internet. This means that locally manufactured STBs made to standards currently specified by the South African Bureau of Standards will not readily find export markets, and if they cost more than proven products already available to consumers worldwide, they will not be price-competitive.

Locally made STBs will also not be ready for the market before mid-2013, about 9 months after the switchover to digital TV begins.

Minister Pule has claimed that as many as 23 500 direct and indirect jobs could be created through this programme. It has attracted industry criticism as the unnecessarily complex STBs produced will cost consumers twice that of an imported simple digital converter.

The Minister's lack of clarity on the import of STBs or digital converters is the latest in a litany of uncertainties about the wisdom and affordability of government's STB strategy.

The Portfolio Committee on Communications has already made a decision that stakeholders in the STB programme must come before the committee to explain the muddled state of affairs around STBs.

The Minister's statements around the possibility of STB imports create further uncertainty.

I will be submitting parliamentary questions to the Minister to call for clarity on the