Govt adopts two-step approach to digital migration

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Government has resolved to adopt a two-step approach in implementing the analogue switch-off as part of the Broadcast Digital Migration programme.

“This approach is accepted to be a win-win approach that will enable analogue switch-off progress, release spectrum and allow key stakeholders to recover from post-COVID economic decline and the impact of load shedding,” Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Mondli Gungubele, said on Wednesday.

The first step focuses on the immediate switch-off of analogue services above the 694MHz band to release spectrum for other telecommunications use. The set date for this step is 31 July 2023.

Government will also temporarily accommodate some of the high population areas below 694MHz and switch-off within a given period. The set date for this step is 31 December 2024.

Addressing media in Pretoria, the Minister emphasised that spectrum and high-speed telecommunication are essential enablers required to support the growth of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

“The analogue switch-off is a critical step that enables release of spectrum and positions South Africa for next generation technologies. By taking this next step, we are making it possible for the companies that bought spectrum to finally proceed with the investments that can be undertaken,” Gungubele said.

Government has been switching off the analogue network countrywide, with M-Net switching off all their 84 sites, while the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has switched off analogue in five provinces - namely, the Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

eTV has switched off 30 of their 84 sites across the country.

“The two-step approach will address the remaining sites, and we are planning to immediately clear 51 transmitters above 694MHz. This is inclusive of cross-border sites that may cause interference with neighbouring countries. We will thereafter progressively switch off all remaining sites towards the final analogue switch-off date, as set in step two.

“The Department [of Communications and Digital Technologies] will continue to work with industry players and the Regulator [ICASA] to ensure that analogue switch-off is achieved, spectrum is released and digital migration is finally concluded,” the Minister said.

The primary objective of digital migration is to clear the radio frequency spectrum currently occupied by broadcasters to enable the provision of wireless mobile broadband services and other innovative applications.

Set-top boxes (STBs) or decoders will be used in the transition to enable free-to-air broadcasting services to migrate from analogue to digital television.

Registration and installation of set-top boxes

Since the beginning of the STBs registration process in 2015, about 1.5 million applications have been received for government-subsidised STBs.

These numbers include the number of registrations for the extended period of July to 30 September 2022.

“We have been monitoring applications that were received after the 30 September 2022 cut-off date, and we are continuing to receive late applications for government-subsidized STBs.

“We cannot leave anyone behind and have resolved to support those who registered after the 30 September 2022 deadline, until such a time that we have fully migrated the country to digital. This is necessary to ensure that indigent households that registered late are provided for during and after the process,” the Minister said.

Government plans to provide registered households with STB installations through to the end of this project, in alignment with the available budget.

“We are currently driving installations in the provinces where we will be undertaking analogue switch-off. We are measuring our STB installation progress per location and where we will undertake switch-off. The majority have received STB installations," Gungubele said.

Public awareness on digital migration

Throughout the implementation of the programme, public awareness programmes have been conducted through multiple platforms to ensure the digital migration message reaches South Africans, irrespective of location.

“A multipronged and multichannel approach to drive the message was adopted at SABC radio stations, community radio stations, SABC television channels and via scroll messages on television broadcast.

“We continue to deploy teams on the ground across provinces to educate people about digital migration, drive registrations and STB installations.

“SALGA [South African Local Government Association] and the National House of Traditional and Koi-San Leaders, ward councillors, ward committee members and community development workers have helped us navigate community dynamics and locate registered households.

"The public is also informed about the programme on social media platforms of the department, entities, municipalities and the public individuals that we regard as ambassadors of the television broadcasting revolution.

“We will continue to intensify our awareness campaign going forward through a focused and impactful awareness campaign. We will work jointly with broadcasters to elevate the digital migration awareness campaign,” the Minister said. –