Govt abandoning direct involvement in set-top box programme

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Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (GCIS)
Minister Nomvula Mokonyane. (GCIS)

The government is abandoning direct involvement with the controversial set-top box programme - which has cost R10b so far - and is phasing out to a "market/ retail driven approach" instead, Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said on Thursday.

The set-top box is a long-mooted device that lets people with old analogue television sets pick up signals from new digital technology.

"Cabinet approved a revised delivery model on implementation of the Broadcast Digital Migration Project," said Mokonyane, at a post-Cabinet's meeting briefing to the media.

"This model adopts a market/retail-driven approach through collaboration and partnerships with the private sector and industry. With this approach, government will no longer be involved in the procurement of set-top boxes, warehousing, transportation and installation of devices."

Reduced risk

Mokonyane said this opens up a chance for possible retail and voucher systems, the skilling of young people to install them, and reduces government's exposure to risk.

Set-top boxes which are still warehoused will be delivered to homes based on databases of where they are most needed, in poor and far-flung areas where people could never afford to organise their own digital migration.

It will start in Free State then move to Northern Cape, North West and far flung areas near South Africa's borders with other countries.

Mokonyane said a team was still working on the final details of how the existing boxes will be moved, but it would have to be a hybrid of partnering with the manufacturing sector and skilling people for installation.

"It is not sustainable for government to be the one that procures and stores," she said.

One size doesn't fit all

She said the area around the world-famous Square Kilometer Array telescope had already been switched completely from analogue to digital.

"We are not the only country that had to change gear with regard to digital migration," said Mokonyane adding that South Africa has been learning from Namibia, Tanzania and the US in how they had handled the switch over.

"We believe with our own development challenges need to prioritise rural and far flung areas," she said.

She added that Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele was on Thursday also looking into the spectrum auction issues and whether some should be set aside for digital migration.

"The work done now, with procurement, installation, awareness etc., comes to R10b," said Mokonyane.

Accelerated intervention to remove government from the procurement and installation process could cost another R2b. This less than the initially estimated R7b.

"We are looking at different models, and moving away from a one size fits all [approach]."

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