Right to reply: Competition complaint – bring it on

2015-03-08 15:00

SA can now look forward to cheap internet access and better-quality TV in cities and rural areas

Last week, this newspaper published serious allegations by Caxton, Media Monitoring Africa and the SOS Coalition relating to an agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice.

According to the three parties, the agreement made between MultiChoice and the SABC constituted some form of “merger”.

Absolute rubbish.

These allegations are flawed both in law and fact. If the licensing of content constitutes a merger, MultiChoice would be merging with every channel provider on its platform.

Clearly, the allegations have no merit and we will be challenging the application at the Competition Tribunal.

The more important news for our country is that we’re one step closer to enjoying cheap internet access and better-quality television.

Green light for digital TV

This week Cabinet approved the final policy on broadcasting digital migration. While there has been some opportunistic reporting on the decision, the minister of communications clarified in her response to questions from the media that the control system referred to would not include conditional access or encryption. This is a great leap forward, one we should all celebrate.

Soon we will all be able to enjoy the many benefits of digital broadcasting, including:

»?Better TV picture quality and sound, including greater access to high-definition TV;

»?More TV channels, including channels in many more South African languages; and

»?Better TV coverage, particularly in rural areas.

Over and above this, the move to digital broadcasting will mean the release of TV frequencies for services such as wireless broadband.

Unfortunately, these benefits have been overlooked in recent months because of differences over the type of decoder (or set-top box) that is needed to access digital TV.

Cabinet has now decided and the nature of the system to be deployed will be described in greater detail in the policy.

But there is already some clarity from the minister, who explained the decoder would be a security feature only, without encryption or conditional access.

The department of communications will soon start to work with manufacturers to produce and distribute it as quickly as possible. This is good news for consumers, taxpayers, the television industry and the electronic-components industry.

An unencrypted solution has long been advocated by the majority of those in the broadcasting sector (MultiChoice, the SABC, the majority of community television licencees and the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components).

It is also the best solution for those South African consumers who will pay for a decoder to receive digital TV. In addition, government is going to subsidise the cost of this decoder for poor households.

The decision to avoid adding unnecessary costs means a cheaper decoder to manufacture, which will have a number of knock-on benefits:

»?Government will be able to subsidise more poor households and to a greater extent;

»?The cost to consumers will be reduced;

»?Emerging black manufacturers will have a better chance of participating in decoder manufacturing because this decoder does not require expensive (or imported) encryption hardware and software; and

» The emerging community-television sector will have better and cheaper access to audiences.

The time has come to make digital television a reality.

Letele is the executive chairperson of MultiChoice SA

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