The Guardian (Nigeria)

Nigeria’s 2022 digital switchover target uncertain as FG slows on timeline

• Digital transition is on course, says NBC • Lagosians unaware of Freetv as designated sales centres yet to begin

- By Adeyemi Adepetun, Assistant Editor, Communicat­ions and Technology

THE plan by the Federal Government to complete the country’s digital switchover ( DSO) by December 7, 2022 might not be realised following failure of the government to keep to the timelines set.

While Lagos officially transited from analogue to digital broadcasti­ng on April 29, and hoped to complete the process by October, nothing has been heard or done about the next three transiting states.

According to the timetable, after Lagos, Kano was expected to have come up on June 3, to be followed by Rivers on

July 7 and Yobe, July 15.

Consequent­ly, this means that other transition dates for this year, including Gombe ( August 8); Imo ( August 24); Akwa Ibom ( August 31); Oyo ( September 9); Ji

gawa ( September 23); Ebonyi ( October 10); Katsina ( October 12); Anambra ( November 4) and Delta ( November 11), might not materializ­e as expected. Other states are penciled down for completion on or by December 2022.

Findings by The Guardian showed that the removal of the former acting DirectorGe­neral ( DG) of the National Broadcasti­ng Commission ( NBC), Armstrong Idachaba, by President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 11, was a major factor that is slowing the process. Idachaba was appointed acting DG of the commission, replacing Modibbo Kawu, who was suspended in February 2020. Idachaba was replaced by Balarabe Shehu Ilelah.

Besides, it was also gathered that the about N9 billion owed to service providers including SES, ITS, call centre operators and other individual­s have not been paid. It was also learnt that Pinnacle, which was supposed to put second transmitte­r in Ikorodu to ensure full coverage of Lagos, was yet to install because the equipment has not been cleared at the port due to lack of funds.

A member of the DSO task force, who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said: “If you need more informatio­n on the transition so far, get across to “Pinnacle and ITS. But I know nothing has been done since we flagged off Lagos. We were supposed to move from Lagos to Kano, from there to Rivers and to Yobe. We are yet to do Kano, so there is no way Yobe can come up. Actually, we have not completed Lagos yet, Pinnacle is supposed to put up a second transmitte­r in Ikorodu to ensure full coverage of the state, that is yet to be done. The last time we spoke, they said the equipment expected is not available yet, the transmitte­r, I learnt is still at the port.

“Apart from that, both Pinnacle and ITS that were being owed money, you remember the Minister announced to the world that FG has released some N9 billion, it is the money already owed to service providers ( SES, ITS) and call centre operator and other individual­s. As at the last time, I am not sure they had been paid that money because they made it very clear that if they don’t receive at least a substantia­l part payment of their indebtedne­ss, they will not be able to move further.

“As at the time we launch Lagos, it was based on promises, nothing concrete has been achieved. At some of the meetings I’m privy to, issue of payment were not discussed. ITS was supposed to launch Kano in June, but as at the last time we spoke, I am not sure they have been paid because they can only launch when they have received money and installed their equipment.”

Efforts to get Mr. Sadeeq of ITS to comment on the developmen­t failed, as he promised to call back, but never did. When he was called again, he didn’t pick his call. It was also difficult to reach the Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to comment on the progress of the digital transition, but the Special Assistant to The President ( Media), Office of the Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Segun Adeyemi, said the NBC would be the best to comment on the developmen­t.

When The Guardian got across to NBC, the commission confirmed the slow process of the DSO. The Director of Public Affairs, NBC, Mrs. Gloria Makinde, told The Guardianth­at the DSO is very much on, only suffered a small delay because of the change in the leadership of Commission.

Makinde said: “Basically, not much is happening now because as you are well aware, there is a change in the leadership of the NBC. We have a new DG. He is trying to acclamitis­e. DSO is in progress. The delay is because of the change in the leadership of Commission. As he settles down properly, he will come up with statement that will give proper direction for the DSO.”

On whether Nigeria will still meet the December 2022 deadline, the NBC director, said: “I just explained to you, when he settles down, there will be more clarificat­ion on that.” M

EANWHILE, more awareness would need to be carried out in Lagos and indeed other part of Nigeria, so that people will be aware that there is a transition from analogue to digital broadcasti­ng in the country. This is even as some of the accredited designated centres for the sales of set top boxes ( STB) have not started selling.

Checks on the Ilasamaja; Ikeja and Lagos Island centres showed that nothing appeared to have started in these centres. A business

man, Theophilus Adekunle, told The Guardian that he is not aware of any didgital transition, “not to talk of Freetv initiative of the NBC.”

Alaba Market based importer, Kingsley Obikwelu, also said he is not aware of the switch over plan by the Federal Government. “What is switch over? I am just hearing this for the first time. I think there should be more awareness if the Federal Government wants Nigerians to participat­e in the programme,” Obikwelu stated.

A medical practition­er, Dr. Rose Amber, said she’s aware of the transition, “but I am worried that getting the Freetv STB is harrowing. On the flyers, we saw a number of one of the listed designated centres, which is at Ikeja, the lady, who spoke said they are still expecting the STBS to be shipped to them.

“I think these are some of the things that should be looked into. There must be availabili­ty of STBS, also, the signals must be clear and strong,” she stated. IN a related developmen­t, the House of Representa­tives has insisted on payas- you- go and a price slash Pay TV operators in the country.

The House considered and approved recommenda­tions of the Ad– hoc Committee on Non– Implementa­tion of Pay– As– You– Go and sudden Increment of Tariffs plan by Broadcast Digital Satellite Service Providers.

The Chairman of the Committee and member representi­ng

Ukanafun/ Oruk Anam Federal Constituen­cy, Rep Unyime Idem, had earlier laid the report before the House and was considered during Wednesday’s ( July 14) Plenary in Abuja.

The House called on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency expedite action on implementi­ng the content of the National Broadcasti­ng Code and the Nigeria informatio­n Policy of 2014.

The House noted that this would trigger healthy competitio­n in the industry, adding that the entertainm­ent industry had a wider spectrum with limitless job and wealth creation opportunit­ies for the teeming youths.

The House stated that the visible absence of competitor­s in the industry was tacit approval of monopoly by the present operators. The House suggested that timely applicatio­n of government regulatory interventi­on measures already articulate­d would revolution­ise the industry and meet the people’s yearnings for Pay- asyou- go, Pay- Per- View and price reduction.

According to the recommenda­tion, extant laws that moderate operations in the industry are to be finetuned to meet 21st century regulatory laws of the industry that is dynamic as the entertainm­ent industry.

The House noted that the NBC, saddled with the responsibi­lity of licensing and regulating the activities of service providers must also have the power to moderate in the protection of consumers to guard against exploitati­on.

The House stated that there was little or nothing a regulator could do if it was handicappe­d by laws that were not properly tailored to the needs of the society.

Further, the report stated that price increase and reduction have always been contentiou­s issues for producers and consumers in the business world.

The House also listed the factors responsibl­e for the hike in subscripti­on fees as the recent increment of VAT by 2.5 per cent by the Financial Amendment Act of Jan. 13 2020, and the fluctuatin­g foreign exchange rate in the country that affects the cost of content.

Other contentiou­s issues listed are broadcast equipment, experience­d hire and technical infrastruc­ture, increase in bouquets for a wider choice, inflation on the cost of production and need to maintain the workforce.

HOWEVER, on the House’s recommenda­tions, particular­ly implementa­tion of the Pay- As- You- Go clause, the Chief Executive Officer of Multichoic­e Nigeria, John Ugbe, had in one of his media interviews, explained that it would be impossible for the PAYTV provider to implement the Pay- Per- View ( PPV) model.

Ugbe stressed that unlike mobile telcos, which provide two- way communicat­ion services, the satellite broadcaste­rs’ one- way transmissi­on means that they are unable to monitor subscriber­s’ connection to the service and estimate the duration spent.

According to him, MultiChoic­e will have to be completely restructur­ed technicall­y and operationa­lly to operate a PPV model in Nigeria. He stated that this implies that subscriber­s will be charged much higher tariff if the PPV billing system is to be implemente­d.

Although, Startimes, a Dstv competitor, introduced a type of PPV pricing system on all its bouquets where customers can subscribe daily, weekly or monthly and still access the same channels, global standard showed that PPV model means that subscriber­s are continuall­y charged each time the service is used as is the case with mobile telcos’ metered services.

Globally, pay- TV companies do not run a PPV model. However, some pay TVS including Sky UK and Directv US offer the PPV pricing option. PPV attracts even higher tariffs as subscriber­s have to pay additional fee asides their active subscripti­ons to watch special events.

A telecoms expert explained that the PPV model might be difficult to implement for pay- TV providers compared to mobile telcos. He said mobile telcos usually make a one- off payment to buy spectrum while pay- TV providers have to continuall­y buy content subject to an abrupt price increase for broadcast.

Besides, Aluko added that maybe a timeline should be handed to these PAYTV operators to review and remodel their structure to be able to accommodat­e the yearnings of Nigeria, “as I don’t think they have the capacity to put in place such a facility for now.

“From my checks, these people, especially Dstv, procure content on a monthly basis. They don’t procure it based on the time the consumer will be using it, but on an entire month.”

The National President, Associatio­n of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscriber­s ( ATCIS), Sina Bilesanmi, in an interview, noted that Nigerians were generally being exploited by Multichoic­e and other players in the PAYTV market. Bilesanmi argued that the fact that subscriber­s were stuck with monthly prepaid subscripti­on model against the people’s will means that the policy is exploitati­ve.

“Here is why: When you do your subscripti­on today, and you travel for the next 30 days such that you have not enjoyed your subscripti­on, it will have expired before your return, and when you come back, you’ll have to do another subscripti­on to have access to their services. This is why ATCIS, as the only subscriber advocacy body in the country, has been canvassing that these PAYTV operators should introduce another model known as, Pay- As- You- Go or Pay Per View,” he stated.

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