Minister takes u-turn on digital technology

2010-06-07 11:31

Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda is making decisions about digital migration without the help of specialist advisers.

He has not reconstituted the Digital Dzonga, a council that was set up to advise ­him on digital migration.

He dissolved the previous board in April ­because he felt it was made up of people with ­conflicts of interest, as they were industry ­players.

Communications department spokesperson Tiyane Rikhotso said: “The minister will ­announce the names of the new candidates in due course. This is a matter he is giving urgent ­attention to.”

The digital migration debate came to the fore after Nyanda announced that the department was evaluating little-known Japanese technology standard ISDB-T, while Cabinet had already ­approved ­another standard called DVB-T.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper last week ­reported that the Japanese had made contact with SABC board chairperson Ben Ngubane, who is a former ambassador to Japan.

But Rikhotso said Nyanda had not made any ­changes to the current standards. Instead, “what we are simply doing is reviewing the cost and ­benefits of all technologies that are suitable for digital ­migration”.

He said that the decision to review the ­digital migration standards was made last month in Luanda, Angola, at the ­annual meeting of Southern African Development Community (SADC) ministers responsible for ­telecommunications, postal ­services and information and communication technologies.

Rikhotso said: “The SADC has put together a task team to look at all technologies available and will, in two months, give us feedback.”

He said cost would be one of the most ­important factors of the review findings that would guide the SADC countries on which digital media to adopt.

The spokesperson for the Southern African Digital Broadcasting Association, Gerhard Petrick, said there were no major differences between the two technology standards.

He said: “We have looked at both technologies and there is not sufficient reason to warrant a change.”

E.tv’s group executive of business development and strategy, Zubair Munshi, said the free-to-air channel was opposed to any attempt that would see ISDB-T being rolled out.

Munshi said: “It is inaccurate to suggest that the DVB-T technology is obsolete.

“Most of the South Africans who participated in the DVB-T trials ­conducted by e.tv gave the technology the thumbs-up.

“We are concerned that government is ­considering ditching DVB-T after the local ­broadcasting industry spent more than R270?million on testing the ­product.”

A newcomer, On Digital Media, which runs Top TV, said the pay broadcaster had also invested in DVB-T-compliant equipment.

But On Digital spokesperson Melinda ­Connor said: “We don’t have any comment until a decision has been made.”

M-Net spokesperson Karen Willenberg said the channel could not understand why ­government had suddenly decided to review the broadcasting standard.

The pay channel’s management was incensed by government as it had also invested millions on trials for the project.

Willenberg said: “The DVB-T standard has ­already been approved by Cabinet and now forms part of both the Independent Communications Authority of SA and SA Bureau of Standards ­regulations.”

According to Willenberg, if government ends up going with the ISDB standard it would be very ­costly for ­broadcasters and implementation could take between three and five years.

Sentech spokesperson Polly Modiko said the broadcasting signal distributor would be pressing ahead with the roll-out of the DVB T technology.

She said: “We will be spending R160?million this year on the roll-out. SABC and e.tv continue to conduct a pilot study on the Sentech network and we envisage a population coverage of 60% by the end of March next year.”

Modiko said Sentech was studying the ­implications of rolling out DVB-T’s more ­advanced sister, DVB-T2.

“Due to this study it would be ­premature to ­engage in a debate for or against rolling out DVB-T,” Modiko said.

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