Gov't rejects encryption in final TV policy - TechCentral

Gov’t rejects encryption in final TV policy

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In what can only be described as a victory for MultiChoice and its industry allies, government has rejected any notion of an encryption system based on conditional access in its final amendment to South Africa’s broadcasting digital migration policy.

The final amendments, published on Wednesday in the Government Gazette, make it clear that government now does not support proposals advanced by e.tv and others that encryption should form a cornerstone feature of the set-top boxes that South Africans will need to watch terrestrial television after analogue broadcasts are terminated.

It also appears, on TechCentral’s reading of the final policy changes, that international digital TV receivers based on the DVB-T2 standard that South Africa has adopted will work, meaning those with integrated digital TVs will not be required to buy a set-top box.

“In keeping with the objectives of ensuring universal access to broadcasting services in South Africa and protecting government investment in [the]subsidised [set-top box] market, [the set-top box]control system in free-to-air [digital terrestrial TV]will be non-mandatory,” the final policy amendment reads.

It’s not immediately clear how this decision will protect the South African electronics manufacturing industry, a stated goal of the policy.

Barring any legal challenges, the publication of the final policy changes should pave the way to the switch-on of commercial digital broadcasts in South Africa. Communications minister Faith Muthambi is expected to announce the switch-on date for digital TV as well as the switch-off date for analogue broadcasts in the coming weeks.

Various commercial and political disputes have long delayed South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital television, with an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline to terminate analogue transmissions looming large. South Africa and other nations committed to the ITU that they would switch off analogue signals by 17 June 2015, a deadline that South Africa has now admitted it will miss, possibly by as much as two years.

The final policy changes mark a significant shift in approach by government, which under previous communications minister Yunus Carrim had proposed the inclusion of an encryption system (although access to it would have not have been free for prospective pay-TV broadcasters).

Encryption systems based on conditional access are typically used by pay-TV operators to switch on paying subscribers and switch off those who aren’t clients.

But e.tv has said it was needed in South Africa to allow free-to-air broadcasters to compete more effectively against the entrenched dominance of MultiChoice.

E.tv argued the system was needed to ensure access to the latest international content and that without it the free-to-air sector risked being “ghettoised”.

Faith Muthambi

Faith Muthambi

MultiChoice, on the other hand, has argued, among other things, that including a control system based on encryption in government-subsidised set-top boxes would have amounted to an unfair subsidy, allowing prospective pay-TV broadcasters a free ticket to compete.

In the final policy amendments, government says the set-top boxes will have a control system to prevent subsidised units from functioning outside South Africa.

The final amendments say, too, that the boxes will have a “robust control system that will be used to benefit the TV households by ensuring that they continue to receive free-to-air broadcasting services in their existing analogue television sets”, although it’s not immediately clear what’s meant by this or why this change was included.

Specifically, the amended policy says: “The [set-top box] control system for the free-to-air [digital terrestrial television set-top boxes]shall not have capabilities to encrypt broadcast signals for the subsidised [set-top boxes] and [will]be used to protect government investment in [the]subsidised [the set-top box]market, thus supporting the local electronic manufacturing sector.”

The amendments say, too: “Depending on the kind of broadcasting services broadcasters may want to provide to their customers, individual broadcasters may at their own cost make decisions regarding encryption of content.”

In addition, the South African Bureau of Standards “will develop a conformance testing regime to ensure that [set-top boxes] conform to the South African standards for the South African [digital terrestrial television]electronic communications network”.  — © 2015 NewsCentral Media

11 Comments

  1. Great, now they can keep their only reason to charge TV licenses on displays rather than STBs.

  2. Sad day for SABC. Sad day for all people watching SABC television. SABC can’t even fill SABC 1, and 3 with quality content let alone premium content. What do government expect SABC to broadcast on SABC 4, 5, 6, etc?
    Premium content owners demand protection of their assets/content. Software Conditional access is cheap and comes with great benefits for all in the industry. It is sad to see government not supporting poor people. Poor people will now never be able to watch good quality premium content.

  3. Personally, I think its a bad move. They could have controlled the revenue stream that is supposed to come in from TV licenses with ease instead of taxing the instruments.

    I don’t watch TV and it really grates me that I have to pay a license fee for my flat screen.

  4. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>Sad day for SABC. Sad day for all people watching SABC television.

    In the new era of consuming content that we’re now in and with guys like Netflix having the preferred premium content; would it also be your assertion that it is a sad time for YouTube?

    There’s more than plenty of content being created and the idiots that were of the belief that CA translates to being able to afford paying for premium content ought to be very, very, grateful…

    …cause I know for certain that they would not have had anything “Premium” overflowing their broadcast schedules.

  5. I think that most tax-paying citizens couldn’t care less either way, as long as we get past the starting line so that the digital dividend can be freed up for use with LTE, LTE-A, 5G and future iterations of mobile broadband. Those people probably have DSTV already, or have gone one step further and are either pirating their content or streaming it from online services like Netflix.

    I’m glad that an actual decision has been made, even though it favours Multicrap. Now we hope and pray that nobody runs back to court.This nonsense has gone on for so long, that the whole issue of DTTV will soon be as irrelevant as the fax machine. Especially considering that we still have to wait another 2 years before switch-off, and then still have to deal with ICASA’s uselessness and incompetence, before the digital dividend can be used.

  6. Greg Mahlknecht on

    > I’m glad that an actual decision has been made, even though it favours Multicrap

    100%. Now at least the potential Multichoice competitors have enough information to formulate a plan – they’d be wise to create a consortium and produce a product like OpenView for DTT (Assuming OpenView isn’t already doing this), and this would make the CA decoder cost more or less inconsequential.

    If you look at the financials of DSTV, they pay BILLIONS a year for premium content. Subsidizing a STB should be doable.

  7. If there was ever a doubt about who is paying Faith Muthambi’s salary, it is now very clear – There couldn’t have been a more Multichoice favorable alteration to the BDM as Minister Muthambi has just made…

    This decision makes no sense, whichever way you look at it and is full of contradictions…

    Very sad day for all South Africans and a “in the face” reminder of the continent we live in, with all that it means…

  8. Andrew Fraser on

    Reading all the comments, one could be led to understand that government has some kind of mandate to fight Multichoice’s pay TV monopoly through this program. That isn’t the case.

  9. The Sunday Times today reveals that the deal – signed on 3 July 2013 by SABC’s Acting Chief Operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Acting Chief Financial Officer Christian Olivier and MultiChoice’s CEO: Pay TV Platfortms Eben Greyling – prohibits the public broadcaster from making any of its channels available on any platform that uses access controls.

    We also need to know why a deal of this magnitude was not signed by the SABC’s Group Chief Operating Officer Ms Lulama Mokhobo, and whether the terms of the deal had interim board approval before it was signed.

  10. Andrew Fraser on

    Again, does not give the Minister of Comms or the DoC any mandate to fight a de facto monopoly. Mandate is to introduce a DTT migration policy that ensures that population does not lose access to public information.

    All the complaints about multichoice are muddying the waters. No matter how unethical the agreement between SABC and Mchoice, it should not impact on the main aim of the process: migration to free spectrum and align with global spectrum management. The fact that Multichoice was lobbying in this manner actuakly shows how far off track the process was.

    After 8 years of dithering and pandering to commercial interests and cronies, at least we have a policy(with some flaws) that can be implemented.

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