Poor to benefit as digital television starts in June

THE roll-out of a digital television signal is to begin in June, with five million poor households set to benefit from the newly approved digital migration amendment policy at a cost of more than R3-billion.

This was announced yesterday by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe after the fortnightly cabinet meeting.

It paves the way for the local production and roll-out of set-top boxes ahead of the switching-on of the digital TV signal.

The set-top boxes will allow those still using analogue sets to access the digital signal. They will be subsidised by the government.

Digital migration will see TV viewers enjoying good picture quality and at the same time serve as a game changer in the lucrative broadcast industry.

“We’re prepared to say come June 17, we’ll have started the switch-on as a country,” Muthambi said. “As you watch your TV through analogue and you’re not a subscriber to DStv, the quality of the picture [is not so great]. So the set-top box will help you get quality pictures.

“They [set-top boxes] will be manufactured in the country. Manufacturers are ready to do that. They were just awaiting for government to finalise the policy.”

She said the government would first prioritise the poor. But citizens would still be required to produce valid TV licences to prove they are legitimate TV owners before the installation of the set-top boxes

The roll-out has been plagued by delays in the last seven years following protracted battles by leading industry players, who could not agree on whether the set-top boxes should be encrypted.

Broadcasters such as MultiChoice were in favour of non-encryption while other stakeholders such as e.tv and civil society organisations preferred encryption.

An encrypted set-top box lets broadcasters control access to the digital signal or their services and creates opportunities for new players to enter the pay TV market.

In other countries digital migration took between two and seven years to complete.

-Thabo Mokone

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