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South Africa edges closer towards digital switchover

Ayanda Dlodlo

Ayanda Dlodlo

South African communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo has reiterated her commitment to move the country’s sluggish progress towards digital migration forwards following a Constitutional Court ruling in June that government-subsidised set-top boxes should not be encrypted.

In an update on progress, the South African department of communications said that the government and key stakeholders had set up a Digital Migration Advisory Committee following a meeting on July 6 attended by public broadcaster SABC, pay TV operators MultiChoice and StarSat, telcos Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, Liquid Telecom, Telkom, StarSat and government body the Universal Service and Access Agency (USAASA).

The department of communications said that the advisory committee, which is tasked with developing a comprehensive project plan indicating timelines and resources required, will hold its first meeting soon.

The department is currently working with the regional Free State government to roll out digital-terrestrial TV to municipalities including Lejweleputswa, Matjhabeng, Nala, Tswelopele, Tokologo and Masolonya.

“I have full appreciation of the impact that the digital migration project  is set to have in the economy of this country.  I therefore have no intention to delay the process,” said Dlodlo, who replaced Faith Muthambi as communications minister in March.

South Africa’s path to digital migration, which the ITU has said should be completed by the end of this year, has been slow and tortuous. Digital switchover were finally initiated in the Northern Cape region at the end of last year, after a year of dual-illumination of digital and analogue signals. The process had hitherto been plagued by multiple controversies including a battle between the government and commercial broadcaster E.tv over whether signals should be encrypted. The commercial broadcaster wanted to ensure that signals – particularly HDTV signals – were encrypted, which was opposed by the government and other broadcasters.

The migration process has also seen allegations of corruption emerge, most recently when Mxolisi Saady Zuma, the son of president Jacob Zuma, was accused of trying to broker bribes to help a technology provider secure the contract to supply set-top boxes.