Altech slams digital standards delay

2010-09-20 11:08

Should government decide to change the standard for digital terrestrial television set-top boxes (STBs) in South Africa, Altech and other industry players will take legal action, the company said today.

The delayed announcement by the communications department on which standard would be adopted was bad for the country, industry, economy and employment, Altech chief executive Craig Venter said in a statement.

Altech is a major industry player as a manufacturer of STBs by its subsidiary, Altech UEC.

Venter said a change in tack on the standard would set back the process of putting decoders into South African households by three to five years.

“Following a Cabinet decision, government announced in 2006 that it had decided to adopt the DVB-T standard and the industry has been working towards that end since then, investing more than R700 million,” he said.

The industry was shocked when the department said in May it was considering a switch to the ISDB-T standard.

ISDB-T was deployed only in Japan, Brazil and a few other South American countries, while DVB-T was used in 120 countries.

A change would set back moves to free up the broadcasting frequency spectrum because digital technology used less frequency spectrum.

“This in turn will impact South Africa’s telecommunication strategy – that of increased competition, affordable bandwidth, greater internet uptake and hence ICT sector growth which is all linked to increased growth of the economy,” Venter said.

Most broadcasters, manufacturers and retailers of television equipment supported DVB-T because it would stimulate the local market.

On the other hand, adoption of the ISDB-T platform would reduce competition, increase telecoms costs and thereby reduce benefits to consumers.

“In fact, if a different standard is adopted, we will have to import skills and technology and turn our backs on what exists locally. This will stifle growth of the ICT sector,” Venter said.

A move to ISDB-T would also have implications for all Southern African Development Community countries because they would have to follow suit to ensure harmonisation in radio frequency spectrum to prevent cross-border spectrum interference.

The ISDB-T standard-based technology had to be imported from Brazil and Japan with little or no opportunity for local innovation.

Hundreds of millions of rands spent by broadcasters, signal distributors and manufacturers in South Africa on DVB-T equipment would have been wasted and staff would need to be retrained, Venter said.

“However, it needs to be stated that should government decide to go with the ISDB-T technology, Altech and other industry players will not hesitate to launch legal proceedings against government, not only to reverse the decision, but also to claim millions of rands spent on costs and wasted resources,” he said.

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