WHAT IS AT STAKE?
South Africa’s eventual migration to digital broadcasting will require televisions to have settop boxes to read the signals.
The long delay of the digital migration process has led to more investments in the stopgap satellite-based infrastructure pioneered by MultiChoice’s DStv offering, and e.tv has launched its own OpenView HD satellite platform.
Up to last year, successive versions of the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy had called for the nationwide roll-out of subsidised boxes that would have built-in encryption technology.
Encryption would yield a number of commercial and public-interest benefits, said proponents such as SOS.
First, the boxes would be the infrastructure that allows new pay TV channels to exist without having to distribute their own separate set-top boxes to millions of homes, opening up a market that has been dominated by MultiChoice.
The encryption would also help improve the free-to-air landscape, said Phamodi. The ability to secure broadcasts against piracy and spillage into neighbouring countries is currently something only MultiChoice can do.
Without this, broadcasters could not even get a seat at the negotiating table with premium content providers, said Phamodi.
Putting encryption into the boxes shores up the case for local manufacturing, which is Namec’s specific interest in the issue. Without encryption, generic boxes could simply be imported, said Nchabeleng.
Because poor households were still more likely to have access to a television than a computer, an encryption-ready network of boxes could also be a new and secure avenue for government e-services, he said.
Lewis’ judgment echoes much of this analysis, saying that “the effect of the amendment is that high-quality television will not be available to the poorest in our society”.