Any household that doesn't have a set-top box or TV configured to receive a digital signal when the analogue 'switch-off' happens will be cut off from access to broadcast media, according to the DA.
Government will begin “switching off” analogue signal infrastructure as of next month, which would see thousands of homes cut off from the TV grid as the country switches from analogue to digital broadcast signal.
The switch off is due to start in the Free State, with rural areas being first in line, before moving to cities.
This as the DA raised concern that systems were not as ready to implement the digital migration policy as this recent announcement suggested, after government missed its deadlines for the big switch as well as the selling of broadcasting spectrum, which were set for last year.
ALSO READ: Charging for data rollover defeats regulation – Icasa
On Friday, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies took to social media to announce that applications for a government-subsidised decoder were still open and available at post offices. Applicants could also contact Sentech via WhatsApp on 072-196-8368 or via the call centre on 0860-736-832 to report challenges with a signal or channel issues. To qualify, an applicant had to have an income of R3200 or less.
According to the presentation given by the department in Parliament last week Tuesday, the rollout of digital decoders (set-top boxes) was not yet completed.
In the Free State, 6300 set-top boxes had been distributed and installed while the process was set to begin in the Northern Cape and the North West this month. Government was pushing for an “aggressive” delivery plan and timelines were being continually revised to realise an early analogue “switch-off” and the release of radio spectrum.
Any household that doesn’t have a set-top box or TV configured to receive a digital signal when the analogue switch-off happens in their area will effectively be cut off from access to broadcast media, according to DA shadow communications minister Zakhele Mbhele, dubbing the phenomenon “signal load shedding”.
“That is why it’s crucial for the department and relevant entities to ensure that every indigent household receives a set-top box or at least a subsidy to buy one themselves, so that no household falls through the gaps,” he said.
Mbhele’s proposal, which was accepted by the parliamentary committee, was for the department to make public its time-bound project plan, which showed the targets for households still to be serviced in every province and municipality with an indication of any possible budget shortfall.
“We will then be able to monitor progress on a regular basis against those time-bound targets and, if the department indicates that there aren’t sufficient resources, the committee could look at ways to engage with National Treasury on options and possibilities for providing top-up funding.”
ALSO READ: Mpumalanga company blames sabotage for failure to deliver on R265 million government tender
This was in the backdrop of the anticipated auctioning of frequency spectrum, which was set to begin as well next month, an important step towards freeing the market for telecommunications service providers which would eventually allow for cheaper costs for resources such as internet access and airtime.
Speaking to Newzroom Afrika last week, Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said the deadlines were missed due to Covid-19. The auctioning of spectrum would now begin at the end of March, she said.
Meanwhile, telecommunications provider Telkom was taking communications regulator Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to court over the selling of spectrum, citing provisions in the authority’s invitations to apply would only help further the dominance of competitors Vodacom and MTN in the market.
Telkom filed papers in December last year seeking to interdict the planned auctioning, which was set to begin in March.
“Because the matter now is before the the courts we will allow the courts to then proceed their decision and of course as a policy maker we are directly affected,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.
ALSO READ: Set-top box policy amendment matter back in ConCourt
According to amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy of 2015 made by then communications minister Faith Muthambi, the switch-on and switch-off date of the digital and analogue broadcasting digital terrestrial television signals would be respectively be determined by the minister of
xommunications in consultation with Cabinet.
The policy is aimed at rolling out digital terrestrial television coverage to cover 84% of the South African population. Areas that may be deemed difficult or uneconomical to reach are to be covered by free-to-air and direct-to-home (DTH) satellite using the second generation digital video broadcasting (DVB-S2) technology.
Last week in his State of The Nation Address (Sona), President Cyril Ramaphosa said the frequently delayed switch from analogue to digital TV transmission would finally begin in March.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.