23 September 2012

East Africa: Digital Distributors in Migration Struggle

Kampala — The move by the Uganda Communications Commission to adopt the Digital Video Broadcasting Technology 2 (DVBT2) and MPEG4 as the standards for providing digital broadcasting has left a number of distributors with sore throats.

This is because when some of them registered to provide digital broadcasting services, Uganda had not yet adopted a digital broadcasting standard.

As a result, some of the companies had stocked DVBT enabled decoders instead and the directive by UCC to adopt DVBT2 caught them off guard.

In an interview with the East African Business Week earlier on, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director of UCC had said all the distributors of the digital services were supposed to follow the directive and upgrade to the DVBT2 platform.

"Those companies supplying DVBT1 technology should upgrade to DVBT2 because it is modern and can carry more programs. People who are using those decoders (DVBT1) are subscribers and those companies have the mandate to upgrade their customers' decoders (to DVBT2)," he said.

Last week, the Uganda Consumer Protection Awareness Association (UCPAA) came out with 'guns blazing' and verbally attacked the proprietors of Startimes Digital TV for allegedly continuing to fleece off unsuspecting customers despite the directive from UCC.

In a strong worded statement, Mr. Mulwani Taminwa, the Chairperson of the association said Startimes was continuing to sell decoders fitted with DVBT technology as opposed to standard despite the UCC directive.

"Investigations by UCPAA in the market shows that Startimes continues to sell the wrong specification at knockdown prices despite the fact that these set top boxes are to be phased out in the near future," he said.

However, Mr. Simon Arineitwe, Startimes' Country Sales Manager responded to the accusations saying that at the time the decoders were imported, Uganda had not yet adopted a digital migration standard.

He said that when UCC adopted the DVBT2 technology as the standard, the company also imported a consignment of DVBT2 enabled decoders and that by Thursday this week, they will be available to their customers.

"Our consignment has arrived and exchange options are going to be available to customers at all our outlets from this Thursday. So all our customers have to do is come to any outlet and present the old decoder and they will be given the new one with the standard technology," Arineitwe told the East African Business Week.

Startimes has close 130,000 customers and is popular with many people who have a low disposable income because of the lower prices that the company provides.

At an earlier event, Eng. Patrick Mwesigwa, the Director of Technology and Licensing at UCC told this reporter that DVBT technology was not fake or substandard but that it can only carry a few channels compared to the DVBT2 decoder.

According to experts familiar with digital broadcasting, using DVBT2 technology will free up more spectrum which can then be sold by government and used for communications services like telephony and data as well as provide additional bandwidth which will allow television companies to create more channels and stimulate growth of the television industry.

Uganda together with other East African countries had set December 31st 2012 as the regional digital migration deadline, two and half years ahead of the July 2015 international deadline.

However as it appears, Uganda will not be able to meet the December 31, 2012 deadline

The country still hasn't approved a second signal distributor and also the one fronted, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) is yet been disbanded so as to have a signal distributor and a content provider.Also the allegations of flaunted procurement procedures have delayed the process and as such UCC according to Mutabazi, has decided to buy signal distribution equipment for UBC so as to try to fast track the process.

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