With just four months to go until the deadline to switch off analogue television broadcasts, the digital migration programme may be about to be thrown into disarray once again.
Despite pressure from within the ANC and from alliance partner, trade union federation Cosatu, Muthambi has recommended that cabinet opt for set-top boxes without conditional access, according to the Business Day report.
Consumers will need to buy set-top boxes to continue receiving terrestrial television once analogue broadcasts are switched off. Government, through the Universal Service & Access Agency of South Africa, intends subsidising the cost of these boxes for up to 5m poorer households.
A commercial battle between pay-TV operator MultiChoice on one side and free-to-air broadcaster e.tv on the other now appears set to lead to a political showdown.
Last month, Muthambi was told by her colleagues at an ANC lekgotla to implement the decision of cabinet of December 2013 that the set-top boxes use an encryption system, according to the report. Former communications minister Yunus Carrim, who, in a shock move, was removed from the cabinet by President Jacob Zuma after the 2014 general election, had developed a compromise policy that would have mandated an encryption system but that would have required prospective pay-TV broadcasters to pay to use it.
MultiChoice is vehemently opposed to encryption of free-to-air set-top boxes, arguing it would amount to unfair competition in that it would allow new pay-TV rivals to launch services in competition with DStv without first incurring the high cost of deploying a conditional access system to subscribers.
E.tv has argued that encryption is necessary to allow free-to-air broadcasters to secure the latest international content to compete more effectively with the dominant DStv platform.
According to Business Day, cabinet will discuss the encryption issue over the next fortnight. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media