Voice of America (Washington, DC)

26 December 2013

Cameroon: Looming Digital Switchover Creates Headaches for Cameroon

Yaounde — With the deadline for a global switch from analog to digital technology looming, Cameroonians are still struggling with the challenges of this digital migration.

Experts agree that the benefits of digital technology are numerous. The switchover will offer sharper and brighter pictures including high definition television, and better audio, giving a better viewing experience. But those working with Cameroon's National Commission on the digital switchover warn of challenges ahead as old TVs will no longer be able to pick up signals.

Tebo Mathias, a digital switchover expert, says, "The population is supposed to be informed, they are supposed to be well educated because you will not imagine an old person maybe in the village somewhere, one morning he is unable to tune to a station because the switchover is already there and he was not aware."

The prices of soon-to-be-obsolete analog televisions have been tumbling ahead of the switchover in mid-2015, raising fears that counties like Cameroon will become dumping grounds for the soon-to-be-obsolete sets. The government has responded by banning the importation of all analog sets, but that also has many people upset.

Germain Nfor, a 33-year-old secondary school teacher in the capital, Yaounde, feels the government's actions have not been well thought out. He says, "[The] government has not sensitized the people on why they are banning the old TV, and after everything the plasma TVs are very very expensive. I wish to ask if there are no alternatives that one can use to capture images apart from the plasma TV?"

Journalist Gaullaume Kimbi says many will find it difficult to pay for TVs with digital technology after the June 2015 deadline.

"We are simply taken by surprise and the new TV screens are not within the reach of the average Cameroonians, which therefore means that several Cameroonian's will not be able to watch TV if that switchover were to come now," he said.

Importers are also concerned. Panje Raoul, who has a plea for the government, says, "We are calling on the state to look for ways of supplying appliances that can transform the images from analog to digital," he say. "Are we able to buy flat screens? Today the minimum wage in Cameroon is 23,000 CFA francs, so I do not know if a Cameroonian will be able to feed himself with such an amount and also buy a plasma screen. We are asking the state to reconsider its decision," he says.

TV sets with digital technology cost as much as $1,000 in Cameroon. The average salary in Cameroon is about $56 a month.

Switchover expert Mathias says citizens must start saving to buy the new sets because the decision taken by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, to switch over cannot be reversed.

"ITU has already decided that after that date, those countries that refuse to switch will not be able to receive signals from abroad or their own signals will not be able to be transmitted to neighboring countries because of interference," he said.

Many experts agree on the need for African countries to eventually migrate to digital technology, but they also say their audiences need to be guided through the process. They suggest the creation of hot lines and help desks as well as massive public awareness campaigns.

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