Government to reconsider set top box roll out model

Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams told reporter on Thursday that government would reassess the model through which it distributed digital television set top boxes around the country, as the previous model proved itself to be a failure.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu told reporters in a post-Cabinet meeting last week that Cabinet noted the framework for the installation of set top box decoders kept at South African Post Office warehouses.

Further delaying the roll out of set top boxes for televisions – which was originally supposed to kick of in time for the 2010 football world cup – has been the delay in releasing spectrum, which the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa would have to tackle.

Cabinet also approved a plan that the installers for the set top boxes be appointed at a municipal level, as a centralised distribution and installation system slowed the delivery of set top boxes down.

During her Thursday briefing Ndabeni-Abrahams said there were about 900 000 set top boxes at Post Office warehouses which were waiting to be delivered and installed.

She said service providers for the delivery of set top boxes would not be procured at a municipal level to allow for ease of access into the most remote communities.

"We must review the current distribution model because it has not worked. This method of getting companies sitting in Gauteng to distribute across the country has not worked. Now we distribute using companies that are closer to the areas we are looking to serve," said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the new installation deadline was still being considered along with installation method. She said 3.2 million more households may still need to be subsidised for set top box installation.

"Engagements with manufacturers are ongoing. Timelines are being set up but specific deadlines can't be confirmed. Right now, 27% of spectrum is available currently. If Icasa auctions today, we will have significant challenges," Ndabeni Abrahams said.

She said delivery would focus mainly on the Northern Cape, the North West Province and the Free State, where the analogue signal would be switched off as set top boxes are rolled out there.

"The show holder of the broadcaster. We don't want to see a shareholder, we will not interfere with the court processes," she said.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said the matter of litigation was key to the delays in rolling out spectrum. She said there was no date on spectrum release.

"We have delayed South Africa for a long time and Icasa is prepared for such. By March, we are confident that the steps will be fast tracked," she said.

Icasa said in October that it would be in a position to license spectrum by the end of March 2020.

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