South Africa's switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television, a process known as digital migration has been delayed for years and is vastly behind schedule; the country has been passed by almost all African countries including Rwanda and Zimbabwe and South Africa has become the laughing stock of the African continent as far as digital public television is concerned.
The Association of Community Television South Africa (Act-SA), MultiChoice and Namec who are also supported by the SABC and the Black Business Council (BBC) in their stance on DTT, want DTT to be launched in South Africa and without the inclusion of a Conditional Access (CA) system.
They say that a CA system - basically an encryption system built into set top boxes (STBs) which South Africans will have to buy - are unnecessary for open, public broadcasting.
They say it will make STBs more expensive, more complex and will lock South Africa into a digital TV system from which the country will never be able to escape.
The group says a Conditional Access (CA) in a STB for public broadcasting and free-to-air TV channels "has been almost universally rejected internationally, it will make the migration process more expensive and it is opposed by most South African broadcasters".
The group is begging Yunis Carrim, the minister of communications to start DTT and not to allow the inclusion of a CA system which will be detrimental to public broadcasting in South Africa, bad to the poorest TV households in South Africa, with a CA system which will only "advance narrow commercial interests".
The ongoing DTT delay and the highly-contentious and controversial in-fighting over CA inclusion or not in STBs is the latest stumbling block hampering South Africa's digital television migration.
Previously the South African government suddenly wanted to change the best, and agreed upon, digital broadcasting standard before finally confirming DBV-T2 and the broadcasting regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) kept changing and re-issuing digital TV regulations over and over with vastly changed specifications.
The government disbanded the Digital Broadcasting Advisory Board (DBAB) or Digital Dzonga advisory board twice and then scrapped it.
Here is the open letter to the South African government and minister Yunis Carrim from the highly concerned group within South Africa's TV industry:
Dear Minister Carrim
For some time now, we have been involved in discussions with you and other stakeholders around your policy which seeks to regulate the migration of TV services from the current analogue broadcast system to digital.
Digital migration marks an exciting new phase in broadcasting (with great opportunities) and will have far reaching consequences for consumers, Government and broadcasters. The major impact will be on South African consumers.
Nearly 8 million analogue TV households will need a set-top box (“STB”) to allow older TV sets to receive the new digital signals.
Your position is that set-top boxes must include technology which is unnecessary and expensive, specifically encryption technology which is used to control access to TV services.
We have serious reservations about this – it has been almost universally rejected internationally, it will make the migration process more expensive and it is opposed by most South African broadcasters.
Including this technology in every free-to-air STB will:We appeal to you to allow free, unencrypted digital terrestrial television to launch without any further delay.
1. Harm consumers by raising the cost of digital migration and binding consumers to an STB forever; Over time all TV sets will be digital, which in other countries do not need set-top boxes. However, if the current proposals are implemented, in South Africa (almost alone in the world) even consumers with digital TV sets will be forced to buy a completely unnecessary set-top box, because the free TV signal will be encrypted.
2. Harm free-to-air broadcasting by increasing the cost of free-to-air television for broadcasters;
3. Disadvantage emerging black manufacturers;
4. Increase the costs of migration for Government, which has already committed itself to subsidizing STBs for the poorest 5 million TV households. Unlike in other countries, this need to subsidise will continue forever because free TV signals will be encrypted here; and
5. Make the migration process complex and result in further delays.
We dispute this aspect of your policy and believe the costs greatly outweigh any supposed benefits.
Your current proposals advance certain narrow commercial interests – rather than being in the interests of our nation.