The delays in the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) process have negatively affected the development of the ICT sector in the country.
So says communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, expressing that this has further delayed broadband penetration across the country, in particular in rural and peri-urban areas.
Ntshavheni was briefing the nation on the progress of the BDM programme, including the rollout and installation of set-top box (STB) decoders.
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“As highlighted by the Constitutional Court, the digital migration process is a national priority, and it must be completed without any further delay for the benefit of the country.”
The communications minister previously said the delay in the switch from analogue to digital TV transmission led to network congestion in SA’s economic hubs Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
After missing the International Telecommunication Union-mandated June 2015 migration deadline, Ntshavheni’s department has made numerous attempts to conclude the country’s digital migration process.
Migrating to digital TV is an important step towards making available the sub-1GB (700MHz-800MHz) radio frequency spectrum bands occupied by the analogue TV signals.
These spectrum bands were licensed during telecoms regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s “historic” spectrum auction in March.
Responding to a question about the impact of digital migration on the digital economy, she explained: “We have already auctioned the spectrum and it has been released to the telcos, and they have started to deploy infrastructure.
“But in rural areas where you didn’t have that [infrastructure], they still have to extend the rollout of the networks – the 4G and 5G networks.
“So when you rollout the 4G and 5G networks, it means…people in those areas can have access to the network. The network can be rolled out to their local areas and they can have access.
“There are people that cannot call because there is no network…at best, they can have Edge Network for calls and basic SMS. They do not have the data network, so that affects how they participate in the digital economy.
“We must conclude broadcast digital migration so that we can release the spectrum for use for everybody, so that the rural and peri-urban areas can be reached.”
Government has undertaken to assist indigent households that applied for STBs, which are required to convert digital broadcasting signals on analogue TV sets.
Qualifying households − those with an income of R3 500 per month or less – are required to register for these devices at their nearest SA Post Office branch.
According to Ntshavheni, the total number of new registered households between April and July now stands at 61 155, which translates to an average of 15 288 registrations per month, therefore representing a decline in STB applications and registrations.
“This is consistent with our message that it’s not a large number of people who qualify who have not applied for the set-top boxes,” she states.
“Based on the consolidated number of registrations and installations, including the rolled over numbers from the KZN and Eastern Cape provinces due to floods, we are now left with approximately 244 000 installations to complete.”
The minister indicated her department will continue to evaluate registrations for the period to September, as it moves towards determining the final analogue switch-off date that it will undertake consultations on.
“We continue to improve our STB installer capacity across the country. As we celebrate the 66th anniversary since the 9 August Women’s Month, I am pleased to report back to the country that 44%, or 473, of our installer enterprises are women-owned.
“I will be meeting with these women installers to not only engage them on digital migration matters, but on how we must support them to participate and grow their businesses within the ICT technical fields.”
Qualifying households have until 30 September to apply for government-subsidised set-top boxes.
The department has encouraged households to visit their nearest post offices to apply, or register here to receive the free government decoder and installation.