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CityPress - - Voices -

hen dig­i­tal ter­res­trial tele­vi­sion (DTT) ar­rives, we will all need de­coders to re­ceive the new TV sig­nals. These are de­coders that all pay TV cus­tomers al­ready have. The rest of us will have to buy new ones, while oth­ers will re­ceive theirs for free. If you want to keep watch­ing free-toair TV (SABC, e.tv and com­mu­nity TV), you’ll need a decoder. In South Africa, they are also called set-top boxes.

For the past three years, there have been many sto­ries in the news about “set-top box con­trol”, “con­di­tional ac­cess” and “un­con­di­tional ac­cess”.

But what does this ac­tu­ally mean? Why has the dis­pute about dig­i­tal TV de­coders led to two court cases and elicited three dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment pol­icy po­si­tions from three con­sec­u­tive min­is­ters? And what does it mean for you?

This is the tech­nol­ogy in a decoder that al­lows broad­cast­ers to pro­tect their TV shows from be­ing pi­rated or viewed il­le­gally. It de­cides who can re­ceive a broad­cast and en­sures that gov­ern­ment-sub­sidised de­coders are not stolen and sold in other coun­tries. In South Africa, there are three op­tions:

Sim­ple set-top box con­trol (also known as un­con­di­tional ac­cess) Con­di­tional ac­cess En­cryp­tion Sim­ple con­trol, the kind called for by Min­is­ter of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Faith Muthambi, is a ba­sic on/off switch for pre­vent­ing theft, as in the case of stolen cell­phones.

En­cryp­tion is used to pro­tect against piracy by scram­bling the broad­cast sig­nal while it is on its way to your TV set. The decoder then un­scram­bles it as it ar­rives.

Con­di­tional ac­cess, which is key for pay TV broad­cast­ers, has en­cryp­tion and al­lows them to con­trol who has ac­cess to their broad­casts.

En­cryp­tion and con­di­tional ac­cess are two dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies that can be of­fered in the same so­lu­tion, depend­ing on the broad­caster’s needs.

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