14 January 2013

South Africa: Pule's Appeal of E.TV Judgment a Blow to Digital TV Rollout

press release

The court had ruled that the Minister's action to overturn a previous agreement between her department and e.tv and SABC for control of the encryption signal on set-top boxes (STBS) was unlawful.

This appeal will further delay progress towards South Africa's migration to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) by the mid-2015 deadline, as the Minister is declining to name the selected manufacturers for STBs until this issue is settled.

Should the appeal take about a year to settle it will take many more months before the successful STB manufacturers are chosen and able to start planning for production. It will then take another six to nine months before the STBs are ready to retail. This means than the majority of South Africans are unlikely to have STBs to enable them to watch high-quality digital television before the country is obliged to switch off its analogue broadcasting signals.

Instead of prolonging the legal battle she initiated over an agreement reached by her predecessor, the late Roy Padayachie, the Minister should rather focus her department's skills and resources on developing and delivering the numerous projects necessary for the manufacture of STBs. The department also needs to provide details on the quantity and costs of the set-top subsidy programme for poorer households, and the logistics, funding and resources needed to market, install and support the subsidy programme.

Last December, in public hearings on the progress of the DTT migration hosted by Parliament's portfolio committee on communications, it became abundantly clear that the Department of Communications is floundering with its delivery of DTT and lagging far behind Sentech (which is installing the digital transmission signal around the country), and e.tv and MNet, who are ready to switch over to digital TV and are being financially compromised by the government's perpetual delays.

The Minister's appeal is the second major bureaucratic set-back in three years to South Africa's DTT rollout. In 2010, under former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, the migration programme was thrown into turmoil when he set aside the European DVB-T standard in favour of the Japanese standard. The department later reverted to the European standard again.

I will request that the portfolio committee call the Minister to explain her actions and the negative impact this will have in rolling out our much delayed migration to DTT.

Marian Shinn, Shadow Minister of Communications

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