The Department of Communications will not meet its internal project deadlines or the deadline as agreed with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for the roll-out of digital terrestrial television (DTT) by June 2015.
This was revealed by the Department and its agencies during a two-day briefing to the Portfolio Committee on Communications on the state of readiness for the migration from analogue to digital television which were held at the request of the DA.
This migration to DTT will be beneficial to all South Africans and specifically low-income households that do not have access to pay television, as such, its timely roll-out is of the utmost importance. We called for the briefings because of the confusion surrounding the timeframes and deadlines for DTT roll-out and the uncertainties around the regulations that will guide the process.
The Deputy Director-General (DDG) of Communications has indicated that South Africa may follow the example of other African countries in requesting a deadline extension from the ITU.
In contrast, the private players M-Net and eTv and indeed Sentech - a critical entity in the roll out of DTT- indicate that they are ready to go once the much delayed regulations are finalised and gazetted.
The biggest stumbling blocks to meeting the deadlines for roll-out are:
• There is still no coherent plan, with timelines indicating what needs to be done, by whom and by when;
• The clear lack of coordination between the entities, and although the department has established a Project Management Office, it does not seem to be up and running;
• The migration and spectrum regulations have not yet been finalised by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa);
• The total funding required has not been ring-fenced and in many instances will lead to delays even if the planning improves. The Department has also not yet determined how many people will be eligible for subsidised Set-Top-Boxes (STB's) - a figure which will have serious funding implications.
The DTT rollout has already suffered several setbacks over the past five years and any more delays are unacceptable.
I will be writing to the Minister regarding the status of the Project Management Office. In addition, I will write to Icasa Chairperson, Dr Stephen Sipho Mncube, requesting assurance that the required regulations will be published before year end.
Urgent steps need to be taken to ensure that the rollout of DTT goes ahead as planned, and that rural communities are given the opportunity to access the benefits that digital television will provide.
Butch Steyn, Shadow Deputy Minister of Communications