Cape Town – Poor South Africans will no longer be required to have a SABC licence or a paid-up SABC TV licence to qualify to receive a free government subsidised decoder in order to keep watching the SABC's digital terrestrial television (DTT) channels.
The minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, made the announcement in her communications budget speech in parliament on Friday.
South Africa is years behind in the switch from analogue to digital terrestrial TV signals, a process known as digital migration. South Africa missed the internationally agreed deadline of June 2015 by which to complete the switch-over.
It requires South African TV households without satellite TV to buy what is known as a set-top box (STB) – basically a TV decoder of around R800 and in a lot of cases a new antenna as well – in order to keep watching existing and future-added TV channels when the analogue signals of TV channels are turned off.
The government is subsidising these free STBs for millions of poor households, but during registering in some of the provinces where the process started, they had to provide proof of a valid SABC TV licence.
Problems started when families were turned down.
It meant that millions of households in South Africa would eventually start to lose their free-to-air TV access and channels, like those from the public broadcaster.
This would be damaging to the SABC with the public broadcaster that would eventually start to lose viewership market share as it starts to gradually lose ratings and the audience who watch SABC channels, but don't have a SABC licence.
Now these households will be able to get a subsidised government STB to continue their free TV access although they don't have a SABC TV licence or a paid-up licence.
'Reduce burden on the poor'
Muthambi's announced regarding the de-linking of the TV licence requirement from the STB subsidy registration process comes after a meeting between the SABC and the department of communications.
"We have in the recent past noticed a slow registration take-up due to the TV licence requirement and insufficient funding to connect the public and] consumer awareness campaign," Muthambi told parliament.
She also said that she told the SABC to "clean up their TV licence base to have accurate and reliable information on who owns a TV set in South Africa to enable proper infrastructure planning".
The Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOS Coalition) welcome the move to drop the SABC TV licence requirement for STBs, saying "this will certainly reduce the burden on South Africa's poor, and accelerate and widen their ability to access set-top boxes so that no-one is left behind in the digital migration project".
SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago didn't respond to a media enquiry made two weeks ago asking why the SABC agreed to dropping the SABC TV licence requirement for a DTT set-top box.
In addition, Faith Muthambi on Friday announced in parliament that analogue TV signals will only be switched off after 80% of the existing analogue TV households have migrated and switched to DTT.
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