14 March 2014

Kenya: ITU Boss Rules Out Extension of Digital TV Migration Deadline

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has ruled out any deadline extension for countries that will fail to meet the June 17, 2015 transition from analogue to digital TV broadcasting.

Speaking to the media after his 5-day visit to the country, the ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun Toure said that the June 2015 deadline was agreed on by all the 193 members of the organizations, which consists of governments as well as 70 private sector members.

"We knew it was doable when we set the migration deadline in 2005. The benefits of the migration exercise to both consumers as well as broadcasters are also enormous," said Toure, adding that the migration exercise will lead to freeing up of about one-third of frequencies which can then be used for the provision of other services.

During his visit to the country, the ITU had several engagements - including meetings with President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as attending the 2-day Conference on ICT opportunities for counties in Kenya under the theme "Transforming lives through stimulation of growth of the ICT sector in Counties" which was held this week in Naivasha.

The ITU announcement coincided with the High Court's decision to postpone making judgment from today - (March 14) - to March 28 on the digital migration case pitting the government (through Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK)- against 3 broadcasting houses - Nation Media Group (NMG), Standard Group and Royal Media Services - who want to be issued with the third signal distribution license before the migration can be effected.

Just over a year to the deadline, only a handful of African countries have began the process of transitioning from analogue to digital platform. Apart from Kenya, some of these are South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Cameroun, Malawi and Botswana among others with Mauritius being among the first countries in the continent to initiate its migration process in 2005.

The low number of countries that have began the migration process points to the presence of various challenges, a fact that ITU is aware of and is seeking to address through its Africa regional office headed by Andrew Rugege, the organization's regional director for Africa.

The ITU Africa regional office, said Toure, will be at hand to help African countries during the migration process, providing assistance in terms of expertise as well as sharing various business models around migration as "there's no universal model to guide the process."

Various countries have also sought flexible or deadline extensions from ITU, including the ITU boss' home country of Mali. In 2010, the ITU reportedly extended the deadline by 5 years to 2020 for about 30 African countries and 4 from Middle East, among these being Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

"My home country - Mali - has asked for a flexible deadline. Why do you believe the ITU will consent to states to have flexible deadline?" posed Toure.

On the issue of the cost of the Set Top Box, which has been used by those asking for an extension, Toure drew reference to mobile phone penetration.

"Anyone who can afford a mobile phone should be able to afford a Set Top Box as it's ten times cheaper than mobile devices. And remember TV sets are watched by all family members unlike mobile devices which are mostly utilized by individuals," he said.

"There should be no country left behind by the June 2015 deadline. That's my wish," he said.

In a remark that can be seen as taking a swipe at those opposed to the migration, Toure said that there'll always be people opposed to introduction of new innovations and technologies.

"Whenever you're trying to introduce new technology, there'll be obviously resistance, but if you believe what you're introducing has benefits for the people, you just have to introduce it. Only political problems have no solutions but all technical problems obviously have solutions toi them," said Toure.

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