ANC seals ‘messy deal’ on set-top boxes

Regulation & Policy

THE African National Congress (ANC) has reached a "messy compromise" on the issue of digital migration and set-top boxes, which will see subsidised boxes manufactured with minimal security features and no capability to encrypt broadcasting signals.

The resolution of the tussle is a victory for Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and a defeat for those who opposed her, including members of the ANC economic transformation committee, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

It is also widely regarded as a victory for MultiChoice, which had lobbied against encryption, and which is now assured of dominance in the pay-TV market.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) had also opposed Ms Muthambi’s position fiercely.

The compromise, ironed out in subcommittees of the ANC national executive committee last week, cleared the way for the publication of the final policy on digital migration by Ms Muthambi in the Government Gazette on Wednesday.

Members of the ANC national executive, the party’s allies and industry bodies had opposed Ms Muthambi’s proposal on the grounds it would entrench the MultiChoice monopoly and would not be sufficient to stimulate local production of the boxes.

The policy says the "control system" would be such that its only function would be to ensure that the set-top boxes do not work beyond the borders of SA. The policy specifies that "(subsidised) set-top boxes shall not have the capabilities to encrypt signals".

Industry specialists said the control system selected would also mean that the security mechanism was minimal and, if stolen, boxes could be resold, and easily hacked.

As premium content — including sports games, television series and movies — is not sold to broadcasters that do not encrypt their signal, free-to-air broadcasters such as e.tv and the SABC will find it hard to secure quality content.

DA shadow minister of communications Marian Shinn said Ms Muthambi’s move would "stifle competition in the free-to-air market and had the potential to put e.tv out of business". The decision also has big implications for electronics manufacturers.

Among the stated aims of the digital migration policy was the stimulation of the local manufacturing industry. The South African Communications Forum, which represents manufacturers, said "the control system would be robust enough to promote the electronics industry".

Trade and industry director-general Lionel October said the decision on encryption was "a messy compromise" but the logjam needed to be broken. Measures would be taken to protect local industry from cheap imports.
Source: BDLive  8 April 2015