A day after winning a comprehensive victory in the constitutional court against communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni — halting her plans to switch off analogue television broadcasts in South Africa at the end of this month — e.tv has said it knows it needs to vacate the analogue spectrum bands as soon as possible for South Africa to progress.
In a statement responding to the apex court’s judgment on Wednesday, Khalik Sherrif, CEO of e.tv parent eMedia Investments, acknowledged that the continued broadcasting of analogue television in South Africa is affecting technological progress because it is preventing telecommunications operators from access to crucial frequencies.
In March, at communications regulator Icasa’s spectrum auction, Telkom, Vodacom, MTN and Rain all secured access to frequencies in the so-called “digital dividend” bands still occupied by broadcasters, including e.tv. It’s the first time Telkom and Rain have won access to broadband spectrum below 1GHz.
- Telkom got 20MHz at 800MHz
- Rain secured 20MHz at 700MHz
- Vodacom got 20MHz at 700MHz
- MTN secured 20MHz at 800MHz
The telecoms operators need access to this spectrum to improve the quality of broadband signals, particularly for in-building and rural coverage. They are not required to pay Icasa for access until the spectrum is available to them.
This spectrum must be vacated by broadcasters “as soon as possible”, Sherrif said on Wednesday.
“eMedia Investments has provided a well-researched proposal on how the migration could be done and how the spectrum affecting the telcos could be vacated almost immediately, subject to minimal approvals from Icasa, which received eMedia’s application for approvals months ago, and which will allow the telcos to get on with the use of the spectrum. The proposal was not taken seriously and there was no alternative but to approach the court,” he said.
In short, the constitutional court found that the switch-off of analogue broadcasts in South Africa must be delayed to allow for more consultation. It said in a unanimous judgment that an earlier high court ruling, which had largely gone in the minister’s favour, had to be set aside as her decisions were irrational. E.tv’s leave to appeal the top court was granted on an urgent basis and upheld. E.tv was joined in the application by the SOS Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa.
“eMedia Investments pleaded with the minister on numerous occasions to listen to the logic and the rationality of the task at hand. We agreed that the switch-off must happen to enable digital migration, but insisted that it must be in a practical logical, and fair manner – ensuring that there are no negative consequences to any households, or the free-to-air TV industry,” eMedia said in Wednesday’s statement.
“We are pleased that the constitutional court heard our plea. We were never against the analogue switch-off. We believe that a planned strategy for digital migration will have many benefits for all South Africans,” Sherrif said.
“We are looking forward to working with the minister and her department to agree on a meaningful and measured approach to systematically implementing the migration without delay, not only to allow the viewing public sufficient time to switch over to a digital solution for TV viewing, but also for the telcos to use the spectrum allocated to them for the benefit of the country.”
A spokesman for Ntshavheni said on Tuesday that the minister “respects” the judgment and “will communicate in due course on the process [going] forward”. – © 2022 NewsCentral Media