2 May 2016

Nigeria: FG Launches Digital Switchover in Jos, Targets Abuja, Lagos

The federal government at the weekend launched the pilot scheme of switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting in Jos, Plateau State, signalling the commencement of a nationwide digitisation process.

To this end, the government would commence the distribution of 200,000 free set-up boxes to households within the Jos metropolis and neighbouring communities, while other users will have to purchase a set-up box at the rate of N 1,500 each.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while performing the epoch function, noted that it was important for states and local government throughout the country to support the process by investing in the purchase of set-up boxes.

Mohammed said the next phase of switch over would be conducted in Abuja and Lagos.

According to the minister, about 30 million subscribers are being targeted across the country, which suggest one of the biggest television market in the world.

"We call on the local and state governments to help us by buying the boxes - which the federal government has highly subsidised for their citizens. The federal government is also giving out, free of charge, the 200,000 boxes for this pilot phase. And the Plateau State Government has agreed to buy 300,000 boxes for their citizens. We are targeting 30 million viewers across the country, which will make Nigeria the biggest Free television market in the world. Congratulations to everyone who has been part of this epoch-making process," he said.

While reeling out the benefits of digital broadcasting, the minister said, with the pilot scheme, subscribers within the Jos metropolis and its environs will have access to 15 free television channels with good quality picture images.

"Compared to yesterday when the average Jos person can only watch five television channels at best, he can now watch 15 television channels, local and international news as well as local and foreign entertainment. Through the information service, he can also get news about government activities without going on the Internet. While watching a particular channel, he can also know the other programmes available on that channel, using the EPG, or Electronic Programme Guide."

He also said the government had directed Set Top Box manufacturers to ensure local production of the boxes, after importing the first set of boxes. This according to the minister will create massive employment for Nigerians, at the same time ensure the transfer of technology.

"In terms of the economy, all licensed Set Top Box manufacturers have been mandated to establish manufacturing companies in Nigeria to produce the boxes locally, after importing the first set of boxes. This will create massive employment and also ensure the transfer of technology for our people. Also, due to availability of many channels, there will be an astronomical increase in the need for content, and this will fire the creative ability of our youths."

Meanwhile, some experts in the broadcast sector have expressed reservations about possibility of achieving a successful switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting by the June 2017 deadline stipulated by the ECOWAS countries.

A director in the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) who confided in THISDAY, said it would be difficult to meet the 2017 deadline, giving the level of preparedness by signal distributors.

According to the director, one of the licenced signal distributors, Pinnacle Commissions is not involved practically in the digitisation process, due to an alleged bridge of white paper agreement.

Pinnacle Communications had dragged the federal government, and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to court over the alleged bridge of white paper agreement, as the later licensed another company, MTS Nigeria Limited, a signal aggregator.

"The situation is not clear, it is very unlikely that Nigeria will meet the June 2017 deadline. As we speak, Pinnacle has not made any arrangement towards the success, and the truth must be told, DSO is not possible without Pinnacle, " he said.

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