The New Times (Kigali)

20 February 2013

Rwanda: Search for TV Digital Converters Still On

The scarcity of Set Top Boxes (STBs) that will enable viewers access digital TV images is hampering migration from analogue signals.

The problem is exacerbated by failure to get suppliers for the decoding devices in the country, officials say.

The Rwanda Utility Regulation Authority (Rura) say no investor has expressed interest to supply the number of STBs needed in the country.

STBs are decoding devices that convert analogue images to digital and allow viewing digital content.

Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, Rura's head of Communication and Media Regulation, said they have already advertised the specifications of the devices.

"We haven't received a prospective supplier yet. We have only received one bidder, who wanted to supply 1,000 STBs, but these are far from the number we need," he said.

Mutabazi said Rura is preparing a document to present to Cabinet, especially the unavailability of STBs suppliers.

"We need somebody who can supply at least 80,000 STBs," he said.

It is not clear how many decoders are needed, but 2011 figures from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda indicate that around 144,000 households have television sets. However, some of the sets are already compatible with digital technology.

Mutabazi said Rura will increase awareness campaign to enable the business community take part in the supply of the STBs.

Rwanda was expected to migrate to digital TV broadcasting by December 31, a deadline set by the East African Community, but due to lack of STBs suppliers, it was not met.

The transition deadline of 2015 was set by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva in 2006.

Among the five EAC partner states, only Tanzania beat the deadline.

Currently, only StarTimes, a Chinese owned pay TV, and DStv subscribers access digital transmission.

Innocent Nkurunziza, the Technical Director of the national bureau of broadcasting (Orinfor), said Rwanda TV is already broadcasting digital content.

"People with STBs can access our digital images. We have about six channels on the digital transmission," he said.

Nkurunziza said Orinfor procured 800 STBs and would distribute them several sectors as part of the awareness campaign to entice consumers to buy the decoders.

He said Orinfor digital TV hosts many channels, including TV5, MTV, France 24 (English and French), TV10 and Rwanda Television.

In 2010, the Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) partnerd with a supplier to deliver 5,000 digital TVs from Malaysia for sale to the public, but the project stalled.

Jack Kayonga, the BRD managing director, said, "There was a supplier who approached us to import digital TV sets, but the client did not fulfil the conditions required by the bank and the project was dropped, so we are still waiting for other partners."

Rura estimates that each decoder will cost between $30 (Rwf19,000) to $40 (Rwf25,000).

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