North West will on Wednesday become the third province in South Africa to have its analogue television signals switched off. This comes as communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni pushes ahead with a plan to complete the national switch-off by early next year, despite objections from broadcasters.
The minister will travel to Zeerust in North West to oversee the switching off of the last analogue transmitter in the province. She will be joined by Keabetswe Modimoeng, the chairman of communications regulator Icasa.
Analogue TV broadcasts have already been terminated in the Free State and the Northern Cape – and there has been little apparent consumer backlash – with Mpumalanga and Limpopo set to follow by early January.
A real challenge may come when signals are switched off in provinces with major urban centres, including Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.
Ntshavheni has said government plans to decommission all analogue transmission sites by the end of January. This has led to anger in the broadcasting sector, particularly from eMedia Holdings, the parent of e.tv, which has threatened legal action if the minister presses ahead with her aggressive switch-off plan. eMedia argues that a 15-month switchover is more realistic as it would greatly reduce the risk of cutting off millions of mainly indigent viewers. Viewers without a set-top box or a compatible digital television could be left without a broadcasting signal at the end of January.
But Ntshavheni appears determined to press ahead with the long-delayed project at speed – it has been more than a decade since government missed its original deadline to complete the migration.
The main purpose of the project is to release the “digital dividend” – the 700MHz and 800MHz frequency bands used by broadcasters – so it can be sold to telecommunications operators at a planned spectrum auction now set down for March 2022.
A “digital restacking” project – to migrate digital broadcasters out of the digital dividend bands – also still needs to take place before the operators can take full advantage of the spectrum.
In this regard, Icasa on Tuesday said that the final radio frequency spectrum assignment plan (RFSAP) dealing with frequencies between 470MHz and 694MHz, which it published recently, provides a plan for a phased approach in implementing digital terrestrial broadcasts through a single frequency network.
“The RFSAP in this frequency band expedites and fast-tracks the implementation of digital terrestrial television, and the concurrent release of the first and second digital dividend spectrum for the deployment of … mobile broadband communications,” the regulator said. – © 2021 NewsCentral Media