TANZANIA is preparing to switch off the analogue broadcasting system on December 31, 2012 to meet the deadline set by the East African Community (EAC) member states and ahead of the SADC deadline of December 31, 2013.
As the country comes close to the deadline for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) recently launched a jingle and promotion song intended to promote the shift. The jingle and the promotional song aimed at educating, reminding and encouraging the public on the importance and benefits of using the new digital system also directs customers to maintain their previous television sets, as they will still be able to use them even after the deadline by connecting them with a decoder.
According to TCRA Director General, Prof John Nkoma, digital broadcasting has a lot of advantages compared to the analogue systems in terms of improved picture quality, more choice of content and other value added and quality services. TCRA has advised the public to buy decoders from registered agencies in addition to securing the devices' guarantees.
The authority further expects that the public will participate fully to make the exercise successful. "One of the main advantages of Digital TV for viewers is that broadcasters are able to embed digital data into the streams, such as programme information and interactive channel menus, clarified Prof Nkoma.
Another advantage is that digital data takes up less bandwidth, meaning more channels can be broadcast at the same time, enables viewers to get more TV channels more conveniently, gives viewers much more choice in what they watch and allows for follow up channels which broadcast the same programmes. "Viewers will be required to purchase decoders, not for prescribed channels, but for the comfort of enjoying clear images and reception in the comfort of their living rooms", said the TCRA CEO.
The Minister for Communications, Science and Technology, Prof Makame Mbarawa, recently advised broadcasters to put in place strategic plans of changing from music or mobile programmes to development programmes. Professor Mbarawa directed broadcasting stations to increase television programmes prioritizing public interest stories rather than spending a lot of time airing music programmes and foreign adverts as if there is nothing to broadcast.
"My call to you directors and owners of broadcasting stations is to ensure that there is a balance between rural and urban coverage due to the fact that majority of Tanzanians live in rural areas," said Prof Mbarawa. He insisted that the government will do its best to ensure that plans to switch from analogue to digital succeed so that Tanzanians benefit through the new technology.
The minister was speaking recently at the Annual Broadcasters' Conference (ABC) 2012 held in Dar es Salaam which brought together more than 200 delegates comprising licensed broadcasters operating in Tanzania. Other delegates were from national broadcasting organizations and regulators from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi as well as exhibitors of digital broadcasting equipment from Tanzania, Kenya, France, South Africa, Italy and United Kingdom.
A lecturer at the Institute of Journalism and Mass Communication (IJMC), Dr Ayoub Rioba, sharing his views at the Annual Broadcasters' Conference advised TCRA to concentrate on local content to allow freedom of creativity among broadcasters. "We should promote creative and talented broadcasters. Let's allow and help those talents to operate effectively by empowering them", said Dr Ayoub Rioba.
Commenting on the challenges of "Broadcasting Content in the Digital Environment," another participant, Mr Arliondo Lopez, said digital migration will enable more channels on the same frequencies maintaining, however, that digital content across multiple platforms will demand quality, creativity, knowledge and talent. "There is a need for the government and broadcasters to work together to meet the demand for local content which is more relevant and more liked by audiences", said Mr Lopez noting that broadcasters need to know the needs of their audiences.
He also challenged broadcasters to define a realistic and effective strategy to remain relevant in the digital environment. Opening a weeklong training seminar on "digital technology in electronic media in the Isle before the Annual Broadcasters' Conference, the Executive Secretary of the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission (ZBC), Mr Chande Omar, challenged media practitioners to be ready for the changes underscoring the need for the journos to acquire requisite skills.
"Technology is changing from analogue to digital, therefore, media practitioners should also change," said Mr Chande. However, Zanzibar Second Vice-President, Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi, recently said that the government would find workable ways to help poor people adapt to digital technology.
One of the ways, he said was negotiating with importers on possible reduction of prices of the gadgets. Kinondoni District Commissioner, Mr Jordan Rugimbana said recently that it was high time now that TCRA and other relevant authorities monitored very closely activities of telecom companies to ensure provision of best services. Mr Rugimbana was concerned by text messages from telecom companies to their customers most of which he said were often misleading.
"There are messages for example asking customers to top up one's account with a promise that one's credit would be doubled but after recharging nothing happens," he said. The District Commissioner who was speaking during a telecommunication customer user's workshop to Kinondoni residents in Dar es Salaam further lashed out at companies which in their advertisements proclaim free mobile transaction while they actually charged the calls.
He also complained against poor customer service by some companies. "Sometimes customers are arbitrarily charged in connection with services they never demanded or subscribed automatically to services they do not need at all," he added. The DC also expressed concern over unregistered mobile phone numbers that remain in operation. He added that such numbers are most likely to be used by criminals.
TCRA Communications Manager Innocent Mungy, urged mobile phone operators to provide customers with an option to block unwanted text messages and phone calls. Customers, on the other hand, should ensure that they read and understand the terms and conditions set by the companies before subscribing to services or offers. Subscribers of mobile phone companies in Tanzania have, for a long time now, complained about the 'irritating' unsolicited messages (SMS) and phone calls, which are sometimes charged.
He said for some time now, it has been a trend by mobile phone operators to send unsolicited text messages and making phone calls to their customers informing them about new products, services and offers among others. TCRA in 2010 licensed three Multiplex Operators (MUX) namely Star Media Tanzania Ltd, Agape Associate Ltd and Basic Transmissions Ltd, for the provision of digital multiplexing, signal distribution and transmission services.