outh Africa is about to begin its journey to a purely digital TV world. During this time, TVowning households will have to switch from analogue transmission (received through an aerial) to digital (through a decoder and possibly an aerial). The key here is the decoder.
Some homes already have decoders because they subscribe to pay TV services like DStv or StarSat. This means your TV won’t suddenly be cut off when the switchover to digital TV happens within the next two years – but you may not get all the new free-to-air channels that will be available.
In the past few years, we have also seen the launch of other TV platforms. Free-to-air satellite operator Openview HD was launched by e.tv parent company Sabido Investments. Sentech has its own satellite platform, Freevision, which will be used to cover the houses that won’t be able to receive DTT signals through a decoder. If you already use these free-toair services, you probably receive the three SABC channels and e.tv via your existing decoder, and you are already DTT compliant.
In the future, TV sets will most likely all be sold with DTT decoders built in.
But those without the new TVs and without satellite services will need to get a new DTT decoder (also called a set-top box) and possibly also a new aerial.
Of the 12.8 million TV-owning households in South Africa, 7.8 million do not have a decoder in their homes. A decoder will cost between R600 and R800, and some of us will get them for free.
Government is planning to spend R4.3 billion to provide 5 million DTT decoders to the poorest TV-owning households.
Although government hasn’t yet outlined the rules, if you want to apply for a free decoder, you will most likely need: A South African ID document; A valid TV licence; and Proof of address. So how poor do you need to be to apply for a free decoder?
South Africa has 4 million TV-owning households earning less than R1 500 a month and another 2 million earning less than R3 200. So, in an effort to ease the financial burden of buying a set-top box, government has the plan in place to distribute 5 million free decoders.
However, there are concerns in civil society and the private sector that 5 million free decoders will not meet the need, and that the human right to access to information will be impinged.
Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha, the CEO of the SA Communication Forum, said that in her opinion these were not going to be enough.
“I think the 5 million figure was a number that came out of the 2005 digital migration working group,” said BraithwaiteKabosha. “That number has stayed since 2005. It’s 10 years later and our population has expanded, while the level of poverty hasn’t decreased.”
But spokesperson for the department of communications Mishack Molakeng had this to say. “According to Stats SA, there are 3 million indigents. Not all of these own televisions. From the 5 million subsidy, it is assumed that it will cater for all qualifying poor television-owning households.”
Braithwaite-Kabosha and others, like the SOS Coalition, have further fears about the documents needed to apply for a free decoder, especially when it concerns the poorest of the poor, who live in rural areas. Many are “undocumented” citizens without access to the necessary papers, including proof of address.
Asked how many undocumented houses may be left out of the transfer to digital TV, Molakeng said: “It is difficult to come up with such a figure. A comprehensive study has to be undertaken to determine the figure of television households without licences.”