The South African government must rethink its Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) rollout strategy and “misguided” decision to opt for locally manufactured set-top boxes (STBs), according to the Democratic Alliance.
Last week, Cabinet approved the ownership support rollout framework for television STBs to poor households.
“The aerials will add at least another R750 million to the R2.45 billion government has already allocated to subsidise STBs for these households,” DA MP Marian Shinn said in a statement. “The department of communications… has persistently failed to fully comprehend the complexities and scope of digital migration and produce an all-encompassing vision, cost, financing plan and roll-out strategy for the project.”
The deadline for digital migration is June 2015. After this date, old-style analogue television sets will require an STB to receive the digital broadcast signal.
Shinn said the focus on local manufacture of STBs was misplaced for a number of reasons.
STBs could be bought for about R350 from off-shore manufacturers and were readily available. “Government has set aside R2.45bn to subsidise 70 per cent of the R700 each locally manufactured STB will cost,” she said. “This subsidy could be slashed by R1bn if STBs were imported.”
Another reason was that local manufacturing of more expensive STBs could only start once standards were finalised. “If the government remains committed to local manufacturing of STBs it is unlikely that the… deadline for digital switchover will be met,” said Shinn.
She said the demand for STBs also had a limited lifespan. “Within a few years most South Africans will likely have bought digital televisions, and sales of analogue sets for which STBs are necessary will cease.”
Shinn said the government’s lack of cohesion in planning for DTT and its determination to stick to a local manufacturing plan with tangible benefits was likely to continue delaying the digital migration programme.