Digital TV migration in chaos - TechCentral

Digital TV migration in chaos

Marian-Shinn-180It was clear from the department of communications’ briefing to parliament on Tuesday that digital terrestrial television migration is a never-ending project with an undetermined cost to taxpayers.

Apart from the unknown cost to completion, the logistical complexities of qualifying indigent households to receive the five million set-top boxes from government, the uncertainty of the distribution chain and installation will delay, for at least another three years, the release of digital dividend spectrum that is critical to expand the capacity of South Africa’s broadband communications network.

The delay in releasing the relevant spectrum has incalculable costs to South Africa’s economic growth and job creation prospects as local and international trade competitiveness increasingly depends on fast, robust communications networks. The delay also inhibits government’s ability to roll out e-government services, particularly to rural areas.

What communications minister Faith Muthambi hailed as her department’s flagship project has a funding shortfall in excess of R2,8bn, and that was my calculation before other previously unknown projects popped into the project plan discussed yesterday.

The minister, her department, Sentech, the Post Office and Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa) presented their progress reports on the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting to a joint meeting of the portfolio committees on communications, telecommunications & postal services and the select committee on communications & public enterprises.

South Africa failed to meet the international deadline for digital television switchover of 17 June 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union website, we lag behind all our neighbours as not having started the process. Mozambique is the only neighbour that has migrated.

Started in 2008, and delayed by innumerable delays caused by political interference, inter-broadcaster marketing wars and legal challenges, and cabinet power struggles, the project promises to be underfunded to deliver on its mandate, even though it has cost R8,5bn so far.

The roll-out of the first set-top boxes is due before year-end to qualifying households in the Northern Cape and, in a phased approach, to the rest of South Africa by the end of 2016. Government plans to hand out 5m set-top boxes to identified, indigent households in that time. There is now uncertainty about whether an additional 3m will creep into some sort of subsidy scheme.

Yesterday, the communications department announced that the Unemployment Insurance Fund will be sharing some of the costs — as yet not public — as a plan has been hatched to use the installation of set-top boxes as a skills training exercise for the rural unemployed. They still need to be identified and trained and will be contracted to the Post Office, which will manage the distribution, yet be paid by Usaasa.

Other unknown costs are those needed to increase subsidies paid to community broadcasters so they can transmit digital content and the establishment and manning of a national call centre — by whom is yet undecided — that will field calls for support in multiple languages.

The known funding shortfall — from previous presentations made to the portfolio committee on telecoms & postal services and gathered via parliamentary questions — include  Sentech’s shortfall in the 2015/2016 financial year for the dual illumination period (R32m); the Post Office (R771m over three years); the department of communications’ marketing costs (R22m); and Usaasa’s project shortfall for set-top boxes (R1,9bn).

Communications minister Faith Muthambi

Communications minister Faith Muthambi

The department seemed unfazed by the lack of clarity on where the money was coming from, saying national treasury had always been sympathetic to the project and that discussions were under way between all the entities involved in the process to identify funding possibilities.

Scant mention was made of the plan to re-stack the broadcasting spectrum after the analogue signal is switched off. This complex process will ensure efficient allocation and use of the spectrum to deliver the digital dividend. Costs for this process are estimated to be about R2bn. This cannot begin until after the analogue broadcasting signal has been switched off, hopefully by the end of 2016.

Muthambi must produce a “shopping list” of all the items and the costs needed in the current medium-term expenditure framework to complete the digital migration and release the digital dividend, the source of their funding, and the timeframe of their expenditure, so South Africans can have a clear, concise view of what they are paying for and by when.

  • Marian Shinn as a Democratic Alliance MP and the party’s shadow minister of telecoms & postal services

6 Comments

  1. OMG, Marian Shinn, give me a break.

    The DA has only criticised details of the Digital Migration, the corruption and delays, and correctly so. But never had the guts to really tackle the underlying core issue which is causing all delays and massive rise in costs. Which is that our Gov, totally unrestrained by any opposition party, wants to control all local manufacturing, distribution of the necessary STBs. And give away 5 m STBs to the poorest households.

    And it will slap massive duties on imported DVB-T2 receivers.

    TV reception is not an essential, basic human right like food, drinking water or education. Delivery of such services is already a major issue in SA.

    And the present Gov is only interested to make use this Digital Migration and the free receivers to make sure that the masses receive tainted news, propaganda from the Voice of Luthuli House, the SABC.

    It is not for sweet nothing that the Digital Migration falls under the last year created Min of Communications, widely seen as a propaganda department, headed by Faith Muthambi.

    I have repeatedly labelled the DM: SA’s R 15 Billion Digital Disaster.

    Cancel that massively mad, money wasting program of local STB production by ( SIC!?!?) 26 suppliers and total Gov control of STB production and distribution. Combined with that total lunacy of 5 m free STBs for the poor, and the heavy import duties for imported DVB-T2 receivers.

    ASAP.

    We really have to do an OUTA here, organise ourselves like Wayne and Co, stop paying our TV licenses until the massive money and time wasting Gov STB program is scrapped.

    Support and comments on : freesadigitv@gmail.com

  2. People are buying cheap decoders and satellite dishes all over South Africa. Satellite has no issues and the price of decoders are far lower than the sponsored boxes.
    OpenView HD is selling decoders for under R400-00 each. Add a satellite dish for a few hundred and you have a reliable free television solution. DSTV decoders are slightly more expensive and comes with a monthly cost.
    The growth of satellite dishes in poor areas are visible all over South Africa. People can afford the R400-00 once off cost and no monthly costs. Even small shacks are boasting their satellite TV connections.
    So yes – scrap DVB-T2 and use the existing satellite services.

  3. I totally agree that T2 be scrapped and S2 become the focal point. Installation process is almost identical. There are hoards of S2 STB’s available like OVHD.

  4. 小杜 (xiao du) on

    Does SABC even have 5 million paid subscribers?

    Or is the plan to simply give away 5 million boxes to ANC voter’s using the 3% of the populations tax money?

    As a tax payer, I think the least due diligence would be to supply boxes to legal subscribers only, but the cynic in me thinks this is going to turn out to be a KFC+T-Shirt+TV Box for ANC votes.

  5. The SABC collects only around R 950m yearly in TV license fees, which would mean only about 30 -35% of the 12 m households with TV in SA are paying their licenses. And contributes less than 20% to the SABC budget.
    A recent report in the Sunday Times on the financial mess at the SABC states they collect considerably more, but that almost half is lost in administration and collection fees. Did not read the full article.
    Nkosi Zama , the CEO of USAASA, the Gov agency that deals with the production and distribution of the free STBs to 5m poor households, stated a few months back that they will not be strict in asking for a valid TV license when distributing these freebies.
    So when you are poor ( kept poor and ignorant by your economically ignorant favourite party) you will be rewarded with free TV, electricity, housing, social grants, T-shirts, food parcels, blankets and most of all eternally empty promises of a “better life for all”, and 5 million jobs.
    Till Jesus arrives.
    You cannot talk about SABC subscribers, that would mean it is voluntary.

    TV licenses and the Gov controlled production and distribution of DTT STBs and handouts of 5 m freebies to the “Poor” should be scrapped ASAP.