Altech CEO Craig Venter has taken government to task for considering pulling the plug on SA’s commitment to the digital video broadcasting terrestrial (DVB-T) standard for digital terrestrial television.
In an outspoken interview on Classic FM on Wednesday evening, Venter (pictured) has lashed out at the department of communications’ decision to review the country’s commitment to switch from analogue to digital using the DVB-T standard and to consider alternatives like Japan’s integrated services digital broadcasting terrestrial (ISDB-T) standard.
SA agreed to use the DVB-T standard in 2006.
Venter says Altech subsidiary UEC has invested R80m in developing set-top box technology based on the DVB-T standard. However, he says the company will be able to absorb that cost.
His bigger concern, he says, is that a change in standards will set back the country’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television by up to five years.
It’s not the first time Venter has criticised the department of communications publicly. In 2008, Altech won a high court case against former communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri that resulted in a dramatic further liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.
Now, Venter has described news of the department’s change of heart over DVB-T as “serious to SA”.
“It is ludicrous for us to be considering changing the specification for digital broadcasting at this hour,” he says.
Brazil, the largest country outside Japan to adopt ISDB-T, is lobbying SA to adopt the standard. Outside Japan, it’s only used in a handful of countries in South America.
If SA ditches its support for DVB-T, all countries in the Southern African Development Community will have to follow suit to ensure harmonisation in radio frequency spectrum across the region. Harmonisation is important to prevent cross-border spectrum interference.
“If this kind of project is going to be exported and will enhance Japan or Brazil at the expense of SA, I will, quite frankly, lose a lot of confidence in this country,” Venter says.
He adds that digital television standards are probably being discussed in bilateral discussions between SA and Brazil. “Maybe that’s why government, at this point, is entertaining the idea of throwing away three-plus years of work…”
Communications department director-general Mamodupi Mohlala has strongly denied suggestions that SA has already agreed to ditch DVB-T in favour of ISDB-T or any other standard.
The department will soon hand a findings document and recommendation to communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, who will make the final decision on the way forward. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral