South Africa will switch from analogue terrestrial television to digital television broadcasting in 2021, according to its National Department of Communication.
The department made this known while addressing the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, this week. The department outlined steps it has taken to this effect, saying it would proceed to implement the distribution of digital set-top boxes, which will speed up the process, as they constitute part of the reason for the delay to digital migration.
“Progress towards finalising the Broadcasting Digital Migration programme has been very slow, primarily due to the poor pace of household migration to digital platforms,” the department said.
Currently, South Africa is five years behind the International Telecommunications Union deadline to migrate from analogue to digital transmission. Although digital television is operational in the country, with full national household coverage comprising 88 per cent terrestrial and 12 per cent satellite broadcasting, only 1,109,965 registrations for digital migration subsidies have been recorded, with a massive 3,590, 035 households yet to register.
Other reasons listed by the department for the delay include the encryption debate, high decoder production costs, fundamental deficiencies in project management structure, poor visibility of public broadcaster to lead migration awareness, private sector broadcasters influence based on commercial interests, etcetera.
The department said it is on track to see that it meets its target by before the analogue switch-off date of 2021 approved by the Committee. Within the year, it plans to acquire installation services run by Sentech and effect its implementation strategy with the approved spectrum discharge sequence. It also hopes to distribute devices following the roll-out sequence by September, speed up and finish the registration process for poor households that require subsidies by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, to drive the programme, the authorities continue to subside decoders to push for mass availability of affordable digital TV decoders.
South Africa, in 2006 committed to the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) deadline of June 2015 for all countries to switch from analogue to digital TV. Switching to digital television, according to the ITU, will free up the radio frequency spectrum, which will be used for mobile broadband services.
At completion, the move will increase the economy’s competitiveness, create jobs opportunities, and help bridge the digital gap in the country.