Digital TV plans anger industry

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iol news pic Yunus Carrim

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Communication minister Yunus Ismail Carrim Photo: Katlholo Maifadi

 

Johannesburg - There is growing pressure from a group of broadcasters and several emerging electronics manufacturers for Communications Minister Yunus Carrim to revise the government’s plan to include a control system in set-top boxes for the digital terrestrial television migration project.

The project is the government’s initiative to subsidise at least 5 million households with a set-top box, also known as a decoder, as the country migrates from analogue to digital television to meet international guidelines.

The project, which includes an opportunity for local and emerging electronics manufacturers to produce the set-top boxes in South Africa for free-to-air television services and to create additional jobs, will be funded with billions in taxpayers’ money.

In draft amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy published on December 6, the government made it optional for the set-top boxes to contain a control mechanism to prohibit the boxes from being sold across the border.

Broadcasters that wanted to offer services using the government subsidised set-top boxes and wanted to protect their content investment by locking the content behind conditional access, would be obliged to pay R20 to the government for each set-top box that was locked.

But the SABC, MultiChoice South Africa, the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components and the Association of Community TV in South Africa (Act-SA) are against the government’s decision, saying it was not well thought through and that logistical nightmares lay in store.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the chief operation officer at the SABC said, for example, the option of a control mechanism required a call centre and other support services to be established at a cost.

The group said the design of the government’s subsidised boxes should be basic. The addition of a control mechanism device including other value added services should be undertaken by individual broadcasters to prevent those who may want to abuse the state’s investment. The group believes that the state may be in contempt of a court ruling that the broadcasters should determine how control mechanisms were used in the set-top boxes.

MultiChoice questioned the legality of the proposed amendments, which were ambiguous in their proposal that set-top boxes must contain a control system but that the use of the system will be optional.

Act-SA spokesman Collin Mackenzie argued that inclusion of a control mechanism would increase the amount that communities would pay towards their subsidised boxes.

Ntando Khoza, a director of ABT, an emerging manufacturer, was unhappy with the group’s stance. “Everybody is obfuscating the fact that we have an opportunity to teach skills.”

Khoza said the inclusion of a control mechanism would force manufacturers to gain skills in manufacturing motherboards and this knowledge could be applied to manufacturing electronics for cars, computers and appliances.

Carrim said in a statement that the department had considered dropping the control mechanism altogether but it would take six months to change the standard for manufacturing while there would also be “a legal challenge to government by manufacturers who invested in control system certification and set-top box designs including control and applied for the government tender”, based on the fact that the control system was specified as a requirement in the last amendment to the Broadband Digital Migration Policy and the tender documents.

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