South Africa: STBs a “waste of money”?

M-Net, a subscription-funded television channel in South Africa, believes the country would be far better off scrapping plans to build pricey set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television and instead should use the money in other ways.

Karen Willenberg, the broadcaster’s director of legal and regulatory affairs, says instead the country should consider the use of much cheaper digital converters rather than investing in complex set-top box technology she believes isn’t necessary and could hold up further the already long-delayed digital migration process.

Rather, Willenberg says the country should move quickly to ensure the biggest benefit of migration – the freeing up of scarce radio frequency spectrum for telecommunications operators – is realised as soon as possible.

Willenberg says adopting STBs instead of digital converters will prove “very expensive” given the government’s promise to subsidise 70 per cent of the cost of the devices in 5 million of the poorest television-viewing households. She estimates government would save more than R1.2 billion on subsidies alone if it abandoned the idea of STBs in favour of simple digital converters.

“Poor TV households wouldn’t have to contribute the remaining 30 per cent to the retail price, meaning an estimated R525 million saving for them,” Willenberg says. By adopting the cheaper technology, she says government could subsidise the full cost of the converters in poorer households.

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