In a statement issued yesterday, the communications department said the issue of whether to include an encryption system into set-top boxes (STBs) as part of the switchover has “impacted negatively” on the country’s ability to meet the deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
“The ITU’s agreed deadline for the switch-off of analogue television signals is the 17 June 2015 and South Africa will not meet this date,” said the Department of Communications.
Outlining a new “final policy” in a bid to accelerate “the migration of free-to-air broadcasting television from analogue to digital,” the government said that STBs should include a control system, but said this “does not mean a conditional access system nor does it mean an encryption of the signal to control access to content by viewers.”
It said that the control system refers to “a security feature to encourage local electronic manufacturing sector”, and that STBs must have on/off security features to protect subsidised STBs from theft or leaving the country, and must be able to the provide government information and services.
“The new policy position does not in any way prohibit any broadcaster who will want to include conditional access in the provision of broadcasting services to its customers. It is the firm view of the department that broadcasters who will want to do that should make their own investment in the acquisition of a conditional access system,” said the Department of Communications.
The department also said that the South African government will provide free STBs to more than 5 million poor television household owners – instead of a partial subsidy of 70%, which it had previously approved in 2008.
“The distribution of the STBs will prioritise those households in the border region areas of the country to avoid and minimise signal interference between those regions and neighbouring countries,” said the government.
Details of the distribution of the set-top boxes have not yet been announced, and the Department of Communications said it will consult with the Cabinet to determine the new analogue signal switch-on and switch-off dates.
The decision comes after long-running disagreements over South Africa’s digital switchover. Last year, South Africa-based pay TV operator Multichoice publically clashed with the government over its switchover plans.
Multichoice, along with the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronics Components (NAMEC) and the public service South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) argued in favour of unencrypted digital STBs. However, the South African government backed set-top encryption on the grounds that it will prevent cheap STB imports from flooding the country, would support local manufacturing and create jobs.