South Africa: DTT STBs will not be encrypted

South Africa’s Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has confirmed that the country’s shift to digital TV broadcasting will not mean an enforced encryption on DTT set-top boxes reported the Business Day newssite.

“The current government policy is non-encryption. Thus far, 1.5-million set-top boxes have been ordered and approximately 850,000 were delivered,” said a spokeswoman speaking on behalf of the Minister.

Kubayi-Ngubane’s position, in effect, reverses previous communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo’s policy position, which sought to ensure that set-top boxes are encrypted.

Local reports say that Kubayi-Ngubane told Parliament recently that her department had requested a legal opinion on the Constitutional Court ruling on the set-top box matter, which was handed down late in 2017.  The Court’s ruling made it clear that policy making was the government’s prerogative, meaning the Department of Communications was well within its rights to decide whether set-top boxes would be encrypted or not.

Kubayi-Ngubane pointed out that the Court had cautioned the government not to utilise public funds to the benefit of private commercial interests (which would in theory benefit the encrypted transmissions from MultiChoice/DStv). 

Independent broadcaster, which challenged Muthambi’s policy, had argued that encryption was needed even in free-to-air set-top boxes to allow other broadcasters to compete with MultiChoice and challenge its monopoly on pay-TV.

Business Day reports that MultiChoice, which owns M-Net and DStv, stated that encrypted digital set-top boxes risked being expensive for the government and would disadvantage the poor. Bickering over the issue delayed South Africa’s plans to migrate from analogue to digital. Allegations, including a copy of minutes of a meeting held between MultiChoice and SABC executives in 2013, emerged in 2017, suggesting the pay-TV operator would proceed with its multimillion-Rand deal with the public broadcaster to include the SABC News Channel on the DStv bouquet only if the government supported non-encryption.

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