Digital TV warning lights flashing

2011-09-22 22:27
Cape Town - Warning lights are flashing that South Africa will not be ready to migrate its analogue broadcasting system to a digital one in April next year, says Congress of the People communications spokesperson Juli Killian.

Killian disagreed with the statement sent out by the Parliamentary portfolio committee on communications on Thursday endorsing the department of communications (DOC) view that the process was on track.

South Africa has to migrate to a new digital terrestrial TV (DDTV) broadcasting system by 2015 in order to replace the current obsolete system that has been in service since the 1970s and to ensure protection for its frequency spectrum in terms of international treaties.

Parliament's communications committee held public hearings for the past two days to determine the state of readiness for this migration. Presenters included the DOC, regulator independent communications authority of SA (Icasa), the department of trade and industry, SA Bureau of Standards and manufacturers.

During the hearings the DOC told the committee that the Digital Migration Policy amendments had been gazette for public comments and the process had to be completed by the year-end.

Killian said that the timelines were totally unrealistic and the regulatory framework was not in place.

"By the time the DOC and Icasa have sorted out their regulation is would be the middle of next year and the manufacturers said they would need at least six to nine months before starting to manufacture," she said.

Icasa caused a stir when it said it would repeal the current regulations and start the process afresh. The previous regulations took two years to complete and were subject to litigation.

Process of litigation

Committee chairperson Eric Kholwane raised concern about the coming public participation progress and amendment of regulations.

"I hope Icasa does not find themselves in a situation of having to delay the launch date of DTT because operators get into a process of litigation", he said.

Kholwane said the Committee was pleased to hear that most of the stakeholders in the manufacturing sector are ready for digital migration if all goes according to the plans - policy and regulatory.

During the hearings the MPs questioned the affordability of the Set-Top-Box (STB), the unit needed to convert digital signals for display on an analogue TV set for people who live below the breadline.

But while the committee welcomed government's proposal of a 70% subsidy it ignored a presentation that a simpler version would cost at least half of the DOC's proposal.

Democratic Alliance shadow communications minister Natahsa Micheal questioned why the simpler and cheaper converter was not considered and said that she would be writing to Communications Minister Roy Padayachie about this.

"Yesterday, during a meeting of the communications portfolio committee, the department of communications revealed that it has known since 2004 that a simple converter exists, at the cost of just R350 per unit, to allow poorer households to continue to watch TV after the digital migration process is complete.

"And yet, inexplicably, the department favours a R700 converter to perform the same function," Michael said.

Kholwane said: "The digital process must benefit historically disadvantaged communities including Blacks, Coloureds and Indians as the primary beneficiaries in job skills transfer and manufacturing opportunities, and right through the value chain."

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