Confusion in South Africa over digital TV

There is a huge uncertainty over South Africa’s adoption of digital TV. A ruling in December by a division of South Africa’s High Court found in favour of ‘etv’, a local channel, as well as public broadcaster SABC, that they could control how a digital set-top box was authorised. This was a blow to Sentech, the local transmission company, which previously was responsible for implementing conditional access (which is being supplied by Switzerland’s Nagra Kudelski).

South Africa’s Department of Communications has said it will appeal the High Court decision.  This has the effect of further delaying the complete tendering process for the supply of the nation’s set-top boxes. The DoC said in a statement: “The decision was taken after considering the implications of the judgment on other broadcasters, particularly potential broadcasters, in line with the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy. “The appeal will be lodged today. The Department is also consulting with existing broadcasters and [broadcasting regulator] Icasa on the role of each party in the implementation of the conditional access as per the court judgment.”

South Africa is committed to starting its analogue switch off this coming June (and already delayed by many months) and wrapping the process up within 3 years. The original plan was to complete the whole switch-off by this coming December. That date now looks increasingly unlikely.

The dispute also pits some of the nation’s broadcasters against communications minster Dina Pule, who had previously decided that Sentech would manage the tender process and its sensitive conditional access controls.

South Africa is reckoned to need around 11 million set-top boxes, and while the poorest in the nation would receive a subsidy of about 70 per cent, the final bill for many viewers would be expensive.

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