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TV biz begs against digital TV encryption

2014-03-19 18:00
Cape Town – South Africa's community TV stations, the satellite pay-TV platform MultiChoice and The National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec) in a joint open letter to the South African government is begging the minister of communications and the department of communications to please urgently launch and start "free, unencrypted digital terrestrial television (DDT)" in South Africa "without any further delay".

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.

South Africa 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.

SA to be locked into a system it will never escape from

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) system 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.

Unnecessary technology will raise cost of digital migration

In the open letter, the TV industry says nearly 8 million TV households will need a STB and that it would be a mistake for STBs to "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."

The group says encryption build into STBs will "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."

Need to subsidise boxes will continue forever

The industry says a Conditional Access system will "harm free-to-air broadcasting by increasing the cost of free-to-air television for broadcasters" and that "the need to subsidise poor TV households will continue forever because free TV signals will be encrypted in South Africa".

The group says the government’s proposals for encryption of STBs will "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 benefit. Your current proposals advance certain narrow commercial interests – rather than being in the interest of our nation."

Read more on:    multichoice  |  sabc  |  tv  |  digital tv
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