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CityPress - - Voices - Who is dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion (DTT) com­pli­ant? Who will get free de­coders?

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.”

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