THE government will not be held to ransom by the bullying tactics of monopolies that resist a challenge to their dominance‚ Communications Minister Yunus Carrim said yesterday.
He was responding to what he described as an “astonishingly inaccurate” open letter published in the Sunday Times at the weekend‚ in which MultiChoice‚ the Association of Community Television South Africa and the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components accused him of advancing “certain narrow commercial interests” by failing to drop all control access to television services.
A war over the encryption technology on digital set-top boxes has pitted MultiChoice and the SABC against e.tv‚ and has delayed South Africa’s migration to digital terrestrial television.
Digital broadcasting is expected to free up spectrum for broadband services‚ improve picture quality and provide space for additional channels.
Carrim said it was “absurd that a monopoly that makes such huge profits … claims that it‚ not the government‚ represents South Africa’s interests”.
Continuing negotiations made the letter more inappropriate.
He likened MultiChoice’s actions to those of MTN and Vodacom‚ the dominant cellphone players. The national health system‚ he said‚ faced similar challenges instigated by the behaviour of monopolistic parties.
“This bickering has to stop. We need to move forward swiftly in the interests of the country.”
Carrim said the government was “extremely close” to making a decision about how to proceed‚ even if final consensus could not be reached.
South Africa is five years behind schedule with digital migration. It has until June next year to meet an International Telecommunication Union deadline to complete its migration.
MultiChoice and its partners have called for free‚ unencrypted digital terrestrial television.
The government‚ it said‚ still required the inclusion of technology in set-top boxes that was unnecessary and expensive.
“We have serious reservations about this; it has been almost universally rejected‚ it will make the migration process more expensive and it is opposed by most South African broadcasters‚” the letter said. – BDlive