E.tv has signed off on a tender for the conditional access system for the set-top boxes South Africans will need to receive digital terrestrial television signals and now only the SABC board needs to do the same before the country can move forward with long-delayed digital migration.
But there’s confusion about whether the conditional access system, also known as the control system, will even be used in digital set-top boxes after communications minister Dina Pule told parliament last week that she intended reviewing the policy.
Pule told parliament that reassessing government’s position on the control system could help expedite the roll-out of digital television.
E.tv chief operating officer Bronwyn Keene-Young says the broadcaster “is not certain what to make of the minister’s statements” and will “need to understand the reasons behind this before commenting further”.
“In this regard, we assume that a government notice will be published in the event of any change to the current policy,” she says. “In the meantime, e.tv has signed off on the set-top box control tender and it is currently pending approval by the SABC board, whereafter the tender documents can be issued.”
SABC spokesman Kaiser Kganyago could not be reached for comment.
The control system can be used to prevent government-subsidised set-top boxes from being used outside South Africa’s borders, but critics have suggested the additional cost offsets any potential benefits.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has set a deadline of mid-June 2015 for countries to complete digital migration. After the deadline, analogue broadcast signals will no longer enjoy ITU protection from cross-border interference.
South Africa looks increasingly unlikely to meet this deadline, which is concerning for the telecoms industry, which urgently wants access to the spectrum that will be freed up through migration.
In addition to wanting access to larger swathes of spectrum to offer next-generation mobile broadband, operators argue the spectrum bands used by TV broadcasters are well suited to providing broadband to rural and underserviced areas.
In May 2012, Pule instructed state-owned Sentech to manage the control system. E.tv successfully challenged the minister’s move in Johannesburg’s high court, arguing that the minister had overstepped legal boundaries in determining that Sentech would manage the system.
Pule initially threatened to appeal the court’s decision but later backed down. It subsequently emerged that Sentech had not requested that it be responsible for the conditional access system. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media