11 July 2014

South Africa: Digital Broadcasting Consumer Guidelines Adopted

SADC Member States have adopted guidelines to cushion consumers from the impact of the planned migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The SADC Guidelines on Consumer Protection and Awareness on Digital Broadcasting Migration were adopted by the 7th SADC Digital Broadcasting Migration Forum held in Kasane, Botswana in June.

"The Forum adopted the SADC Guidelines on Consumer Protection and Awareness on Digital Broadcasting Migration, and Member States are encouraged to implement the Guidelines with immediate effect," the forum said.

The guidelines will enable governments to cushion consumers from the effects of the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting and outline measures to be taken by Member States to raise awareness about the migration.

The measures to cushion consumers include subsidies for purchasing digital receivers.

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is leading other African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in terms of progress towards meeting the global deadline for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Two SADC Member States - Mauritius and the United Republic of Tanzania - were the first African countries to migrate to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT).

Mauritius was the first African nation to fully digitise television broadcasting for all regions and islands in 2007.

The country initiated its migration process in 2005 with a "soft launch" of its first digital services offering six free-to-air channels.

Two digital channels were launched in 2008 to speed up consumer purchases of digital TV sets and the appropriate Set-Top Boxes (STBs). Full analogue switch-off was completed in December 2013.

Tanzania completed the migration at the end of 2012 and immediately commenced a staggered programme of switching off analogue broadcasting in December in an exercise that has so far seen six of its regions now accessing DTT services.

These are Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Dodoma, Kilimanjaro, Mwanza and Arusha.

Key success factors for the migration programmes in both Mauritius and Tanzania included effective regulatory environments and introduction of subsidies to enable consumers to acquire DTT receivers.

The success of the Tanzanian digital migration exercise is also attributed to its effective awareness campaign conducted parallel to the implementation of the programme.

However, challenges encountered by most SADC Member States include lack of funding to roll out the migration programme, and standardisation of receivers available on the market and their affordability.

To pursue a smooth DTT migration, SADC Member States resolved to reflect on financing models that provide for an efficient process for disseminating information about the DTT migration process.

For example, to avoid this problem, the Tanzanian government has exempted taxes on decoders and Set Top Boxes.

Among other measures introduced by SADC is the introduction of a DTT Project Management Office at the SADC Secretariat to coordinate the regional DTT programme.

The DTT office is a special desk at the Secretariat that acts as a one-stop shop for coordinating, monitoring, evaluating and reporting on the implementation of the SADC Roadmap for Digital Broadcasting Migration to ensure all Member States meet the migration deadline.

The SADC region has also approved a Harmonised SADC Digital Dividend Strategic Plan that outlines, among other things, specifications for low-cost, free-to-air decoders and a digital licensing framework for the region.

The global deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is 17 June 2015.

Digital broadcasting involves the use of digital signals rather than analogue wave forms to transmit television broadcast channels on assigned radio frequency bands.

Thanks to the use of data compression, digital links generally have more efficient bandwidth usage than analogue, which makes it possible for more services and channels, and improved picture quality than previously possible.

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