Analogue switch-off by 2020, says Minister

Friday, October 19, 2018

Government is confident it will make the switch from analogue terrestrial television to digital broadcasting by July 2020, Communication Minister Nomvula Mokonyane said on Friday.

“The analogue switch-off will occur in South Africa in July 2020. However, we will work harder to do it earlier if it’s possible,” said Mokonyane, while also announcing that the Free State would be the first province to switch off analogue transmission by 31 December 2018.

South Africa missed the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deadline to migrate from analogue to digital transmission in 2015.

Currently, television and radio signals are broadcast on an analogue platform, which requires a large amount of bandwidth to transmit picture and sound information. This limits the amount of signals that can get through at any time. However, digital signals require much less bandwidth, therefore more channels can be broadcast at the same time, with brighter, sharper picture and better sound.

Speaking at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) headquarters in Pretoria on Friday, Mokonyane said the department has been hard at work getting the project back on track.

The Department of Communication (DoC) in July set up a dedicated Project Management Office (PMO) in addition to a Digital Migration Advisory Council to advise the department on how to implement the project.

Also, Cabinet last week announced a revised delivery model on the BDM.

The proposed changes to the delivery model adopts a market/retail driven approach through collaboration with the private sector and industry where government will no longer be involved in the procurement of set top boxes (STBs), warehousing, transportation and installation of devices.

It also includes the supply of decoders to viewers to follow a retail supply model, the recommendation of a subsidy threshold and the implementation of a voucher system for households.

Mokonyane said the previous delivery model was expensive, cumbersome and government carried multiple risks.

It would be “foolhardy” for South Africa to continue with this model, the Minister said, adding that from government’s perspective, with declining public funds, revising the model became a necessity.

DoC acting Director General, Dr Mashilo Boloka, said the previous model was overly government centric with limited participation of industry and resource intensive.

While in March 2015 Cabinet approved a 100% subsidy to poor TV owning households for decoders, antenna and installation, Boloka said they would make use of vouchers.

“We are going to use a voucher, there won’t be a system where USAASA [Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa] are going to send out tenders in other words every household will be given a voucher and they can decide where they are going to extend that voucher.

“It’s also important to understand that STBs are no longer mandatory, it’s an old technology but we are not saying people can’t use it,” said Boloka.

Executive Director of the Project Management Office Aldred Dreyer said: “A decade ago South Africa had five million indigent television households, we now looking at 4.3 million analogue TV households that are still remaining countrywide and of that we have 3.2 million that are indigent.

“So there would be 3.2 million that would need to register for a voucher.”

The value of the voucher is still to be decided on.

The new delivery model will be phased in from March next year, but it does not make the already procured decoders obsolete or non-usable. The new model of broadcasting digital migration will continue to subsidise indigent television viewing households.

The registration and installation of government decoders will continue unhindered in provinces, and the rollout of the project will continue until the new delivery model is phased in next year.

Currently, there are over 390 000 STBs in South African Post Office warehouses.

The Minister said the changes will transfer power to consumers as the price of appliances will become affordable as various retailers will compete on the basis of price instead of one set by government. -