GOVERNMENT RECEIVES REPORT ON SWITCH TO DIGITAL BROADCASTING IN SOUTH AFRICA

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Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri received a report Wednesday with recommendations on how government could best manage the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The Digital Migration Working Group delivered the 350 page report, which now has to be considered by the communications department's management, before it can be tabled in Cabinet.

The plan to migrate the country's broadcasting system from analogue to digital will enable broadcasters to have better capacity to improve and diversify their services.

Other benefits include a large number of television channels that could be licensed, better video and sound quality and the transmission of an increased amount of data.

Dr Matsepe-Casaburri announced the establishment of the working group, which comprises government, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry players and civil society representatives, in her 2005/2006 budget speech.

Upon receiving the report, Dr Matsepe-Casaburri said government remained positive that the digitisation of broadcasting systems would contribute to the national goals of increasing the economy's competitiveness while broadening people's participation.

She explained that through technical transformation, digital broadcasting could deliver more benefits for the industry and the public, with reduced transmission costs in the long term.

"As government, we have an obligation to ensure that services reach every citizen of this country at an even more affordable rate," said the minister.

The strategy has to take into consideration that digital migration should be driven by the need to expand services to all South Africans, particularly the poor, while ensuring market growth and socio-economic development.

While digital migration promises many improvements within the broadcasting industry, transition will not be easy.

According to the department, almost all South African households are using analogue television sets, which are unable to receive digital broadcasting services or a digital signal.

For an analogue television set to be able to receive the digital signal, it will need a digital set top box (STB) decoder, says working group chairperson Lara Kantor.

The STB decoder is able to receive the digital signal and convert it into analogue signal.

Consumers would be expected to buy the decoders, which are currently estimated to be worth about R400 each, in order to receive digital broadcasting services.

"In South Africa, approximately 4.4 million television households will not be able to afford a basic STB decoder," Ms Kantor said, adding that the working group had recommended that government consider subsidizing the consumers in this regard.

It is expected that implementation of this digital migration process would start in 2008.

This will be in accordance with targets as set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an organisation within the United Nations, where governments and the private sector coordinate global telecom networks and services.

During its recent conference in Turkey, where the minister represented South Africa, the ITU set an international deadline for the African and European regions to have migrated to digital broadcasting by June 2015.

Broadcasters who will continue broadcasting on the old analogue technology would no longer be protected from harmful interference of their broadcasting services, resulting in picture distortions and the degradation of images to black.

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