SA’s digital TV switch: No intention to cut off anybody

2014-02-20 20:00
Cape Town – There is no intention to cut off any TV viewer in South Africa once the long-delayed and completely stalled switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) finally happens, the minister of communications, Yunus Carrim told parliament.

Millions of South Africa's TV viewers are completely unaware about the protracted TV industry battle between manufacters, broadcasters and other parties who are all fighting about the inclusion or not of what is called a Conditional Access (CA) system in set-top boxes.

TV viewers without satellite pay-TV services will all have to buy a STB for about R800 per box during the switch – a process known as digital migration – in order to keep receiving the signal.

There is however a fight about the inclusion or not of a built-in CA system in this box – a locking mechanism which not only makes it more expensive, but also makes it possible for the box to be "switched off" by broadcasters by scrambling signals.

It will also create an artificial manufacturing bubble for DTT STB in South Africa by ensuring through the CA system that only STBs manufactured in South Africa can be used here, that STBs taken outside of South Africa will be switched off and won't work, and that STBs and TV sets with built-in digital STB receivers from international manufacturers won't work if brought into South Africa.

The majority of broadcasters in South Africa are opposed to a Conditional Access (CA) system for DTT, Carrim told parliament on Tuesday when he gave an updated report about DTT.

‘You can’t cut people off it they’re not going to pay their SABC licence’

The severly delayed DTT switch has been further delayed by this latest skirmish since neither side – those for and against CA – want  to budge. The minister said he is giving all side another three weeks to find a way through the months long impasse and then the department is going to intervene.

MultiChoice, M-Net, the SABC, community TV stations and some STB manufacturers oppose any form of CA control. and some manufacturers want CA control.

About the option of Conditional Access, Carrim told parliament that "there is no intention to cut off anybody. This has never been the intention since 2012".

"It's an old policy in 2008 that said you must use this thing to cut off people who can't pay. You can't do that, it's unconstitutional. You can't cut people off if they're not going to pay for the SABC licence. That was never the intention since 2012," Carrim said.

He said that the choices made regarding DTT should benefit the SABC.

"It is the SABC's interests that primarily should dominate. Our approach is to deal with the set top-box (STB) so that it positions the SABC to outflank both the pay-TV commercial broadcasters and the free-to-air commercials broadcasters in South Africa because the SABC needs to grow stronger," said Carrim.

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