BEFORE the recent scramble for 'top-set' boxes, signalling the end of analogue transmissions and the new dawn of digital broadcasting in Tanzania, the term 'Television' was almost forgotten here.
'Free-to-air,' television coverage in Arusha took onto 'the air,' for the first time in December 1995; this may not seem like long time ago, but 17 years are enough to make people take this type of electronic media for granted, enough to forget that the popularly used term, 'TV' was actually the abbreviation for 'Television!'
Media mogul, Mr Reginald Mengi who will go into the books of history for being the first person to establish a public television station in the country circa 1994, was also the first guy that enabled Arusha people to access his 'Independent Television (ITV),' when IPP Media started beaming its electronic services here in 1995.
Later other offerings such as the Dar es Salaam Television (DTV), which was later replaced by its own sibling 'Channel Ten' and Mwanza's Star- TV made scene in Arusha, thus widening the tuning choices to most residents who were already getting bored with ITV monotony.
"Governments are always late to the party!" goes a popular saying and sure enough the state broadcaster 'Television ya Taifa,' which later became known as TBC (Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation), waited until 2004 before sending its TV signals to Arusha.
Meanwhile, private run TV-Burudani, Tojo TV and Millan Cable were already offering pay cable television services in the municipality, both 'Tojo' and 'TV-Burudani' however closed down later, living Mr Millan, who operates from a 'cost-saving,' home garage set-up to enjoy the monopoly.
Digital broadcasting on the other hand was established here back in 2002 through South- Africa's DSTV and we still remember its first advertising promo; a 'tongue-in-cheek' oneliner which went; 'Do you have DSTV or just TV?'
DSTV with its hefty monthly charges remained a premium luxury of the few though of late they have been offering budget packages to budget conscious individuals. Outside the city, 'free-to-air' television was unheard of, which means a lot of people in rural parts of the region with some cash to spare, installed satellite dishes that works with DVB decoders and little did they know that it was their first step into the digital broadcasting world, that their urban counterparts would be forced to adapt later.
In Karatu, Babati and Mbulu townships satellite dishes have been popular business for traders and formed own industry comprising of transporting the equipment as well as installing the latter for their various customers.
Pubs, bars, Guest Houses and Restaurants in rural townships cannot operate with the flickering television tubes on the corner for the patrons to gaze at as they ate, drank or simply passed their time at the joint arguing about anything that passed on the screens with squabbles getting hotter whenever a soccer match is aired.
When the entire world announced the global analogue to digital migration, the state broadcaster TBC through some alliance with a Chinese firm 'Startimes Media' launched their first digital receivers here in 2010.
The first scramble for 'Startimes' TV decoders was experienced in that same year because the 'joint venture,' eager to make quick cash, threatened people that without the set-top boxes, they will not be able to watch the 'World cup 2010,' in which a certain Octopus known as 'Paul,' would be predicting scores to deadly accuracy.
And since it was the first 'World Cup' to be held on the African continent, the paramount importance of viewing the multi-national soccer extravaganza, which only come once in four years, could not be described.
So, most Arusha residents bought their decoders in 2010 when the gadgets were being retailed at an astounding 95,000/- the price which has already dropped down to less than 40,000/- in the current digital deadline scramble.
Like the legendary 'Strange case of Dr Jeykill and Mr Hyde,' partnership, some media outlets of late, have been reporting some alleged estrangement lurking behind the TBC and Startimes joint venture scheme, that pioneered the country's public digital broadcasting, but this is yet to be fully proved.
The other thing which needs proof is whether the decoders being offered by 'Startimes,' can deliver what their retailers promise. So far, as far as a number of owners are concerned,' there are no interesting channels to convince a person to buy the gadgets.
And despite claims from Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) that each topbox, regardless of its vendor, will offer local stations free of charge, this hasn't been quite forthcoming if the current situation with 'Startimes,' in Arusha is anything to go by.
Besides, IPP-Media (ITV, EATV, Capital TV, Radio-One) and Sahara Media (Star-TV, Radio Free Africa, Kiss FM) are about to float their own decoders onto the market, promising better content. The (Christian) religious oriented Agape Media already have one in the streets, even if it is not popular.
'Zuku Television,' another seller, is also advertising its boxes. Soon competition among decoder vendors will be high and 'Startimes' may need to replace their lukewarm buffets of mostly China stations with better banquets.