Rwanda: GOtv accused of interfering with Star Times signal

Technology & Convergence

Barely weeks after entering the local Pay TV services market, GOtv is being accused of interfering with a rival's signal.

Star Times, a Chinese pay TV is accusing GOtv, a subsidiary of South Africa-based MultiChoice company, of installing a signal with power that's above stipulated levels on a shared frequency, which affected the former's signal.

Star Times CEO Hans Huo added that the regulator, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura), is doing little to address the situation.

He said ever since Kigali and its environs went digital this year, Star Times has faced signal difficulties, particularly in the city suburbs of Gikondo and Nyamirambo.

Many TV viewers in and around the capital now watch Rwanda Television on terrestrial digital broadcasting platforms following the implementation of the digital switchover this month.

"GOtv came into the market without testing their equipment which is why we are facing these problems.

Rura instructed us not to send out more than 1.3kw of signal power, but when GOtv entered the market they sent stronger signal power yet we are on the same frequency," Huo said.

He said: "We have pleaded with Rura to allocate us a different frequency but they have ignored our pleas; we are losing money, our clients are frustrated, over 6,000 have complained so far, nearly 400 of them have physically visited our head office over the same."

Yet, he added, Rura gave Star Times up to February 21 to sort out the signal issue.

An official at GOtv admitted that their installations had interfered with Star Times' signal. "It's a case of ours overpowering theirs," the source said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter in the media.

However, the acting director general of Rura, Beata Mukangabo, told The New Times efforts were underway to address technical difficulties involved.

"Issues to do with frequency allocation are not things you can simply jump into because someone has complained. Sometimes you may think that you have solved an issue yet you have caused a bigger problem.

"Frequency allocation requires an extensive study, otherwise you may find yourself assigning a security frequency to a TV station or disrupting radio broadcasting," she said.

Rwanda Broadcasting Agency's technical director, Innocent Nkurunziza, said the poor signal is a result of some providers setting up too strong signals in some places and conflicting frequencies. "In some cases, GOtv sends out strong signals while in other places Star Times has a stronger signal which also affects their broadcasting capacity".

He said they were trying to find a solution this week.

"We have a meeting tomorrow (today) with GOtv technicians and hope that subscribers will get clear signal for all the channels by Friday," said Nkurunziza.

The issue came to light following complaints by subscribers over poor services offered by the two firms.

In posts on an online social network platform, subscribers complained that Star Times signal was weak, while GOtv charges viewers for free-to-air channels, including the public broadcaster, Rwanda Television.

One of them wrote: "Every citizen has a right to access the national TV regardless of subscription because it is an information TV based station. Citizens do not only need movies, music and cartoons."

Most viewers in the country cannot access Rwanda Television by analogue following the launch of the phased migration to digital broadcasting this year.

In response, Eric Sebera, an ICT officer at Rura, wrote on the same platform: "If GOtv switched off RTV after your subscription had expired, please call Rura ... Rwanda TV is supposed to be free on all digital platforms. Concerning Star Times issue, it was just a temporary interference at the broadcasting sites and it was solved."

However, GOtv's communications officer, Kim Kizito, refuted the claims saying that no one is charged for free-to-air channels, including Rwanda Television.

"We launched our service in Rwanda with a two months promotion. Currently, everyone who buys a decoder gets free access to all the 37 channels which include the free-to-air channels, at the moment we don't expect any complaints until after March," said Kizito.

He added that: "But upon the expiry of the promotion, a subscriber will be required to pay Rwf17, 500 as administration fee to access the free to air channels. This amount is paid once."

But he declined to comment on the alleged interference with Star Times' signal.