Set-top box out­put de­layed

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - THABISO MOCHIKO In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Writer mochikot@bdlive.co.za

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 e.tv 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. E.tv 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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