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2023-05-17 at 22:02 #405017Nat QuinnKeymaster
South Africa recently missed its 12th deadline for the switch-off of terrestrial analogue TV broadcasting signals that will mark the completion of the country’s migration to vastly superior digital transmissions.
The switch-off will also free critical radio frequency spectrum for mobile operators could use to improve network coverage and capacity in South Africa.
This spectrum was already auctioned off last year. However, according to a court settlement between industry regulator Icasa and some operators National Treasury will only receive its money once mobile networks can actually use it.
The country originally planned to switch off all analogue TV signals as early as November 2011, but a circus of legal, political, and logistical issues pushed that back by over a decade.
The latest deadline that came and went — 31 March 2023 — was set down by former communications minister Khumbodzu Ntshavheni in December 2022.
“I hereby give notice to the industry and affected parties of my intention to determine 31 March 2023 as the analogue switch-off date and the end of [the] dual illumination period,” Ntshavheni said.
“Industry and affected parties are invited to make substantive representations either in support [of] or opposing the proposed date.”
Ntshavheni’s proposal came after the Constitutional Court ruled that the previous determination of 30 June 2022 as the analogue switch-off date was irrational and unlawful.
That date was set by the High Court, which itself deferred the previous 31 March 2022 switch-off date announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The Concourt ordered the minister to conduct proper consultations with broadcasters and other stakeholders to come up with a more reasonable deadline.
It is unclear what input the department received after Ntshavheni’s December declaration.
Continuing the long tradition of replacing the communications minister before the analogue switch-off is seen through, Ramaphosa reshuffled his cabinet on 6 March 2023.
Mondli Gungubele replaced Ntshavheni, while Ntshavheni took over Gungubele’s role as Minister in the Presidency responsible for State Security.
After Gungubele’s appointment, MyBroadband asked the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) what the status was of the analogue switch-off and received no feedback.
However, considering that analogue TV transmissions were still available in many parts of South Africa, it appeared as though the department hadn’t followed through on the end-March switch-off date Ntshavheni had proclaimed.
Gungubele finally broke his silence on the topic during his Budget Vote speech in Parliament on Wednesday, saying the switch-off date remains to be determined.
He indicated the consultations around Ntshavheni’s proclamation had not been completed.
“Once this consultation process is completed, we will announce the final date for analogue switch-off, which will free up much-needed spectrum in accordance with the President’s directive,” said Gungubele.
Gungubele said there was consensus in the sector that the broadcasting digital migration project be concluded.
Acting communications head for the department, Frans Mthombeni, previously told the Sunday Times that Gungubele had to consider feedback.
“Following the cabinet reassignment, minister Gungubele accordingly considered the written comments from the public and interested parties,” Mthombeni said.
He added that final consultations were scheduled for April 2023 — another missed deadline.
The precise reasons for the delay are unknown. However, E-tv and community broadcasters previously raised concerns about cutting off viewers that did not have a digital signal decoder (called a set-top box) or TV with a digital tuner.
It was E-tv that had taken Ntshavheni to court and appealed to the Constitutional Court when they disagreed with the new deadline set by the High Court ruling.
Government provided subsidised set-top boxes to indigent households with incomes of less than R3,500.
Registrations for these boxes first opened in October 2015 and closed seven years later — at the end of September 2022.
The latest data from the DCDT revealed that 185,382 subsidised set-top boxes (STBs) still had to be installed as of 30 November 2022.
Ntshavheni said it would take just over three months to complete the installations, suggesting the process would be completed sometime during March 2023.
However, this appears not to have been realised. Gungubele said the department aimed to conclude the distribution of available set-top boxes to registered indigent households “as soon as possible”.
South Africa has an estimated 14 million households with TVs, so if none of the previously-communicated outstanding households had their boxes installed, one might conclude only about 1.3% of viewers would be cut off.
However, E-tv and community broadcasters raised concerns about a so-called “missing middle” audience segment who do not earn little enough to qualify for the free STBs and cannot easily afford to buy one.
Four most populated provinces outstanding
To date, South Africa has switched off the SABC’s analogue TV transmitters in five provinces, with Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern and Western Cape remaining outstanding.
E-tv, however, has resisted shutting off its analogue signal, as it is convinced it will lose a large chunk of its viewership.
The table below summarises all the important dates that formed part of South Africa’s digital migration plan since it was first proposed.
South Africa’s digital TV migration deadlines — from 2006 to 2022 Deadline Milestone Outcome 31 December 2006 Digital migration strategy delivery Missed 1 June 2007 Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (BDMP) publication Missed 8 September 2008 Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (BDMP) published Delivered late 1 November 2008 Digital terrestrial television switch-on On-time 11 June 2010 80% digital TV signal coverage by FIFA World Cup Missed 1 November 2011 (1) Analogue terrestrial TV switch-off — initial deadline (per Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri) Missed 30 April 2013 Potential analogue terrestrial TV switch-off (per ICASA) Missed 31 December 2013 (2) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Roy Padayachie) Missed 17 June 2015 (3) ITU deadline for analogue switch-off Missed 31 December 2018 (4) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Faith Muthambi) Missed 30 June 2019 (5) Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said ITU revised South Africa’s deadline, DA says she was lying. Regardless, we missed it. Missed 31 July 2020 (6) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Nomvula Mokonyane) Missed 31 December 2020 (7) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Nomvula Mokonyane) Missed 31 December 2021 (8) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams) Missed 31 January 2022 (9) New analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams, affirmed by Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni) Missed 31 March 2022 (10) New analogue terrestial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni) Missed 30 June 2022 (11) New analogue terrestial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, following High Court ruling) Missed 31 March 2023 (12) New analogue terrestial TV switch-off deadline (per Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, following Consitutional Court ruling) Missed TBC Latest analogue terrestrial TV switch-off deadline Pending
source:South Africa’s digital TV failure — 12 missed deadlines and almost 12 years late (mybroadband.co.za)
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