South Africa: Minister concerned about delay in finalising digital TV access control
Communications Minister Dina Pule has raised concern about delays in finalising matters relating to conditional access control to digital television.
South Africa is moving to a digital broadcasting platform from analogue, which will result in more television channels and free up the spectrum needed for broadband services.
Conditional access control is a technology used to limit access to digital television services to authorised users by encrypting the transmitted programming. Among other things, the encryption signal prevents the use of counterfeit boxes.
The communications ministry and e.tv were involved in a court battle last year over the management of the conditional access control system, which was given to state-owned signal distributor Sentech. The court ruled in favour of e.tv, in effect stating that broadcasters should manage the control system.
"I am concerned about the slow progress of finalising the conditional access (matter)," Ms Pule said on Tuesday at a workshop hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components, which represents electronic manufacturers.
"The STB (set-top box) control implementation is in the hands of free-to-air broadcasters as per the court judgment on the matter," she said. "To date, we are awaiting the decision of broadcasters on the details of their approach to this matter."
But e.tv said on Wednesday that together with the SABC, it was finalising the way forward on the set-top box control. "Unfortunately attempts to expedite this matter with Sentech have proved difficult and the broadcasters are currently considering alternatives," it said.
There have been various views on the benefits of the encryption system. Broadcasters see it as a service that will help them be more innovative by rendering several types of broadcasting services. However, said Ms Pule, some sections of the manufacturing industry were concerned that the system would drive up the cost of manufacturing the set-top boxes, thereby affecting their business potential.
She said the benefits of the control system for the government included limiting cross-border unauthorised use and theft. "In addition, the system is designed to support communicating to the public in case of disaster and government messaging transmission."
The migration to digital broadcasting has been delayed several times amid fear that South Africa might miss its June 2015 deadline to switch off the analogue signal.
Ms Pule also hit back at critics on Tuesday, saying that "when things don’t happen and progress is not seen, the challenge is with the minister". She was adamant the commercial launch of digital migration would still happen this year despite the delays.