SA’s full migration to digital terrestrial television has been delayed until April 2013 at the earliest, meaning the country will switch off its analogue television signal at least 18 months later than government had originally envisaged.
The commercial launch of digital television, which was meant to happen in April this year, has also been delayed indefinitely. It’s now unlikely to take place until after the soccer World Cup, which ends in July.
The delay means telecommunications operators will have to wait even longer to take advantage of the spectrum that the move to digital television could free up. Most countries are expected to use the extra spectrum, known as the “digital dividend”, to license new broadband wireless operators and to provide high-definition television terrestrially.
Cabinet had originally set a deadline of 1 November 2011 for the termination of analogue television broadcasts.
Last year, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) committed itself to achieving this target by April 2012 after determining that the November 2011 date was not feasible.
But Icasa now says the switch-off of analogue broadcasts will take longer, thanks in part to anticipated delays in the availability of set-top boxes that are needed to receive the new digital signals, particularly those that will be subsidised by government.
In a “reasons document” accompanying the release on Monday of the latest version of Icasa’s digital migration regulations, the regulatory authority explains that it is not bound by cabinet’s proposed timeframe.
The timeframe during which broadcasters are expected to “dual illuminate”, or offer both analogue and digital services, will commence on “a date to be set by the authority by notice in the Government Gazette”, Icasa says.
It will “give notice of the commencement date no less than 60 days prior to that date, taking into consideration the state of readiness of other key players, including the department of communications, which is driving the roll-out of set-top boxes to address universal access”.
This period will end three years after the commencement date, Icasa says.
That means that if Icasa were to issue a notice of commencement this month, the earliest analogue broadcasts will be switched off will be April 2013.
However, given the disruption of the soccer World Cup, it seems unlikely the commercial launch will happen until the second half of the year, meaning dual illumination may only end in late 2013.
Lara Kantor, chair of the Digital Dzonga, an advisory council created by the department of communications to oversee the migration process, warned in an interview with TechCentral last year that unless Icasa published the new regulations by October 2009, the country would not be ready for the planned commercial switch-on in April 2010.
Icasa was forced to redraft the digital migration regulations following a legal challenge from free-to-air broadcaster e.tv. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral