The ANC decided at its lekgotla last week that cabinet’s decision in favour of the use of a conditional access system based on encryption was the right one for South Africa’s digital terrestrial television project, Business Day reported on Wednesday.
News of the ANC’s decision on the contested issue comes five months after telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele — who had been running the project at the time — told TechCentral in an interview that government would still require the inclusion of a control system based on encryption in the set-top boxes that South Africans will need to watch digital terrestrial television when analogue broadcasts are switched off.
South Africa’s digital migration is years behind schedule, in large part because of a damaging fight between broadcasters over whether encryption should be included in the set-top boxes. DStv parent MultiChoice is vehemently opposed to the idea, saying it will lead to the introduction of unfair competition, while e.tv is in favour, saying it’s necessary to protect free-to-air broadcasters.
It’s now widely acknowledged that South Africa will miss the 17 June 2015 deadline, agreed to with the International Telecommunication Union, to switch off analogue broadcasts. The delays are impeding the roll-out of wireless broadband as broadcasters continue to occupy valuable radio frequency spectrum that will be handed over to telecoms operators when migration is completed.
In December 2013, after extensive mediation efforts with warring industry players, former communications minister Yunus Carrim proposed a compromise policy to cabinet in terms of which a control system would be included in set-top boxes, but broadcasters wanting to use it to provide subscription services would have to pay for the privilege.
In his September interview with TechCentral, Cwele — who is effectively Carrim’s successor — said the policy adopted by cabinet in December 2013 was correct. “It’s correct not to compel anyone to use the [control] system, but it’s there to allow us to achieve key objectives we have set ourselves as government.”
He said he did not intend attempting further mediation between e.tv and MultiChoice. “I don’t have any intention to mediate between these private companies, because all that was done before. We do listen to people. I have met all of these companies. I have listened to their presentations and challenges. Those are the things the government is considering in finalising the policy.”
Management of the project has since been handed to communications minister Faith Muthambi.
Business Day now reports that Muthambi has been instructed to take the ANC’s lekgotla decision to cabinet to pave the way for the manufacture of set-top boxes.
The newspaper quotes an ANC statement as saying that the lekgotla has “directed the finalisation of the digital migration process to support broadband roll-out”.
“Government must move with the necessary speed to meet the deadline of 15 June 2015.”
ANC economic transformation head Enoch Godongwana is quoted as saying that cabinet’s December 2013 decision in favour of encryption must be implemented. — (c) 2015 NewsCentral Media