Business Day

Set-top box output delayed

- THABISO MOCHIKO Informatio­n Technology Writer

PRODUCTION of digital TV set-top boxes has been suspended pending the outcome of an applicatio­n for leave to appeal the recent Supreme Court of Appeal ruling.

PRODUCTION of digital TV settop boxes has been suspended pending the outcome of an applicatio­n for leave to appeal the recent Supreme Court of Appeal ruling.

Halting production will further delay SA’s migration from analogue to digital television broadcasti­ng. The court’s ruling in May set aside the government’s decision not to add encryption software in the set-top boxes, which will be used to receive the digital TV signal as the country migrates from analogue broadcasti­ng.

Initially the digital migration policy stated that the 5-million government sponsored boxes, which would be given to poor households for free, should not have the encryption system. But successful­ly challenged that in court. Communicat­ions Minister Faith Muthambi and M-Net have filed leave to appeal the Supreme Court of Appeal’s ruling.

Confirming the halt in production, Universal Service and Access Agency of SA CEO Lumko Mtimde said that following legal advice it had received after the court’s judgment, it “decided to suspend” production until a further “directive from the executive authority”.

Three firms were appointed to manufactur­e 1.5-million of the 5-million boxes. So far only 447,458 boxes have been produced and by the end of May 6,348 boxes were distribute­d to households in some parts of the Northern Cape where the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is situated.

Muthambi’s spokesman Mish Molakeng said the distributi­on of boxes was continuing “unabated” and that the minister would soon announce the analogue switch-off date for the SKA area in the Northern Cape, which has been a priority area for the rollout.

Registrati­on for free boxes in areas near Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe has also started and so far more than 30,000 households have registered. Molakeng said that the department was looking at completing the migration to digital TV in about two years.

But the fight over encryption is likely to further delay the migration process. SA has missed its deadline to switch off the analogue signal more than a year ago. This means that the analogue signal will not be protected by the Internatio­nal Telecommun­ication Union (ITU) against interferen­ces.

The ITU said while it was not penalising or putting pressure on countries to fast track their migration programmes, if an analogue signal of a country was interferin­g with the digital system of a neighbouri­ng country priority was given to the digital signal. This meant that if an analogue signal was interferin­g, it should be stopped.

The ongoing delay in migrating to the digital platform has been caused by a number of factors over the years, including disagreeme­nt over the technology standards that SA should adopt and most recently about whether the set-top boxes should have encryption.

Encryption is used by pay TV operators to switch off nonpaying subscriber­s. believes that without encryption, audiences would end up with a second-rate viewing experience and be unable to access premium shows.

The move to digital TV is expected to result in more TV channels, better picture quality and a decrease in transmissi­on costs. Moving to digital would also release the radio frequency spectrum that would be used for the deployment of much faster mobile networks.

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