TANZANIA has become the first country in Africa South of the Sahara and among the first in the world to successfully migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The switching off of analogue transmitters in Dar Es Salaam on 31 December 2012, well ahead of the UN agreed deadline of 2015 has once again put the country and its communications regulator, TCRA on the spotlight. In this last installment of a three-part series, LOLILA MOSSO looks at Tanzania's experience in digital migration.
FOR mother of two Agnes Mmasi, a shift supervisor with an international clearing agent at the Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar Es Salaam and resident of Salasala kwa Magwaza, some 24 kilometres away, 2013 has not only been a new year but a harbinger of better things in her life.
This addicted fan of the South African series broadcast on weekdays at 1930 hours on one of the Tanzanian television channels says she is now literally liberated. What has happened? " Digital television. This is something I respect", she beams. But how? "
Isidingo is my favourite series, and must watch it daily. They have repeats on Sundays but it is exciting to follow 'fresh' scenes. Due to the chromic traffic jams, I used to stop at a certain roadside pub on Mandela road to watch Isidingo. But I can now watch it at home at my convenience." Someone at home records it for her on a flash disc inserted into the digital set top box.
Agnes is among the millions of Tanzanians who will enjoy the benefits of digital television broadcasts following the phased migration to digital broadcasting. The country's communications regulator, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority is monitoring the switching off of analogue transmitters in the digital-ready parts of the country, an undertaking which started on December 31 last year.
At a recent broadcasting forum in Johannesburg Tanzania and TCRA won praises after presentations by the Authority's Director of Broadcasting, Mr. Habbi Gunze and the Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Innocent Mungy submitted a progress report that has most delegates doubting if it were really from an African country. "
As I speak now, Dar Es Salaam, the main city and Dodoma the political capital are fully digital", stated Mr. Gunze to prolonged applause. None of the African countries in the conference, including South Africa have switched off the analogue signal. The world deadline is June 2015.
One may then ask; why did Tanzania and East African countries decide on the December 31, 2012 for the analogue switch off instead of waiting for the ITU deadline of 2015? According to the TCRA Director General Prof. John Nkoma, the early migration will enable Tanzania to deal with challenges associated with the uptake of digital broadcasting, both from service providers and consumers points of views.
For example, there have been complaints over limited information to consumers on the use of their set top boxes. Tanzania's migration to digital broadcasting began in 2005. In that year TCRA issued the first public consultation document (PCD) on the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting in Tanzania in which he Authority invited comments from stakeholders.
In 2006, TCRA participated in a major radio communication conference in Geneva in which all the analogue television plan in existence were converted to digital plans plan. It should be recalled that 2005 was the year in which TCRA introduced the converged licencing framework (CLF) which has four licence categories; namely Network Facilities License, Network Service License, Application Service License and Content Service License; the latter for broadcasting services.
The CLF was necessitated by the global convergence of technologies. It has led to the introduction of many communications services in Tanzania. TCRA finalized the national planning and assignment of the digital frequencies and issued a second PCD in 2006. This focused on the role of the multiplex operator (MUX). A national technical committee was established to oversee the migration.
TCRA conducted a series of awareness seminars and briefings to key stakeholders including the Government, licencees and consumer organizations. Expressions of interest were invited for MUX licences in April 2008. Five companies submitted bids none qualified for the licence.
After readvertisements in July 2008, seven companies submitted proposals. Three qualified and were granted the MUX licences in 2010. These are Star Media Tanzania Limited, Basic Transmission Limited and Agape Associates Limited. The transmission system adopted in Tanzania is the DVB-T family. Some of operators will start directly with DVB-T2. Video compression standard adopted by our administration is MPEG-4 H-264 and its generics.
Due to the late introduction of television in Tanzania Mainland and the country's geography, analogue terrestrial television signals are received by only 24 per cent of the population; mainly in Dar es Salaam and parts of Tanga, Mwanza, Kagera, Arusha, Dodoma, Singida, Kigoma, Mbeya, Tabora, Morogoro, Lindi, Rukwa and Ruvuma regions.
Following the licencing of the three MUX, simultaneous broadcasting in both analogue and digital formats was introduced in Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Tanga, Mbeya, Moshi na Mwanza, which is 20 per cent of the national coverage. Tanzania's migration to digital broadcasting is phased.
It started with the switch off of analogue transmitters in Dar Es Salaam on 31 December 2012, followed by Dodoma in January 2013, Mwanza (February 2013). Analogue transmitters will bet switched off in Moshi and Arusha at the end of March 2013 and Mbeya in April 2013.
TCRA insists that analogue transmitters are only switched off in the digital-ready areas, i.e. those digital broadcasting equipment. Areas that do not have the digital infrastructure will not be switched-off. Satellite and cable broadcasting are not affected with the changes. According to TCRA, save for a few hitches associated with the use of set top boxes and installation of antennas, the migration to digital broadcasting has proceeded well.
This is largely attributed to Tanzania's early decision to migrate by December 2012. The management of key stakeholders, including periodic interactions with them has helped the migration process. Stakeholder consultations started in 2005 They were involved in the planning process and in setting digital terrestrial television transmission fees charged by multiplex operators to content service providers (CSPs).
After the failure by the CSPS and MUX to negotiate and agree on the transmission fees to be charged by the MUX during simulcast period and beyond, TCRA conducted a cost based study on the transmission fee and discussed it with all the stakeholders before setting up the fee which is a maximum US dollars 3,800 per transmission site per month.
This will be reviewed annually taking into account the multiplicity of content channels, sharing of infrastructure and value added services. A focussed public education campaign also helped in raising stakeholder awareness on the benefits of digital migration. TCRA managed the communications strategy for digital migration. which is to a large extent aligned to the recommended CRASA Guidelines on Digital Broadcasting Migration Communication Strategy.
It involves focussed outreach programmes and public education programmes through the media, seminars and road shows. But perhaps the trump card was political will. From the very beginning, TCRA worked very closely with its principal key stakeholder- the Government. The digital migration is guided by the ICT Policy and Broadcasting Policy, both of 2003. These policies cut across all electronic communication networks and services and address convergence of telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.
The Regulatory instrument that allow for migration includes the principal Act - EPOCA of 2010. Regulations have been introduced to facilitate the process. These are "The Electronic and Postal Communications (Digital and other Broadcasting Networks) Regulations, 2011 and "The Electronic and Postal Communications (Licensing) Regulations, 2011" To spearhead the process, a national steering committee was formed.
It is composed of Permanent Secretaries of the Ministry of Communications Science and Technology, Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industry and Trade, Prime Minister's office Regional Administration and Local Governments, Ministry of Communications and Transport, Zanzibar, CEO Universal Communication Access Fund (UCAF) and the Director General of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority.
There is a National Technical Committee for Digital Broadcasting (NTC-DB) with members from TCRA, the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology; Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports; TCRA Consumer Consultative Council, Content Committee and the Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission.
The team provides technical, policy and regulatory expertise to the Ministry of Communications Science and Technology and TCRA. The authority kept the two ministries to which it reports - the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology; and the Ministry of Information updated on every move in the process.
The launching of the public awareness campaign by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Hon. Jakaya Kikwete in August 2011 capped it all. TCRA had all the support and confidence it needed.