Johannesburg - Communications Minister Yunus Carrim, like his predecessor Dina Pule, could face a lawsuit over confusion regarding the inclusion or exclusion of an encryption mechanism in decoders intended for the government’s digital terrestrial television migration programme.
The National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec) has threatened legal action in a letter it will send to Carrim.
Namec, a body representing bidders for the government’s multimillion-rand decoder project, argues that the government’s latest position on the encryption mechanism, also called conditional access, is confusing, ambiguous and prejudicial to new entrants into the decoder manufacturing market.
“As black people we want to manufacture simply. We don’t want to have conditions attached to us,” Vijay Pandey, the head of manufacturing for Namec, said yesterday.
Last week, the cabinet ended months of delay when it ruled that conditional access was not mandatory. The Communications Department has to appoint manufacturers next. Carrim postponed a press briefing to discuss the project plan on Friday, a day after the death of Nelson Mandela.
Pandey said the inclusion of conditional access in decoders meant that new entrants would incur a delay of six months to become accredited with conditional access providers.
Namec had also argued that “on the one hand the report speaks about conditional access being non-mandatory and then says that the control system will protect the local manufacturing industry and create jobs. This view completely contradicts itself,” Pandey said.
He also criticised a proposal that any broadcaster that intended to insert conditional access in the government-subsidised decoders would have to pay $2 (R21) to the department per decoder.
The retail sale of ordinary digital television decoders would cost much more than subsidised decoders, Namec argued.
“Has he considered the effect this will have in the long term on industry players?” Pandey asked, adding that unscrupulous broadcasters could avoid incurring the cost of rolling out conditional access-enabled decoders by approaching the manufacturers of the government-sponsored decoders and simply insert conditional access at a nominal fee.
The government has earmarked more than R2 billion to supply decoders to about 5 million households. Decoders convert the digital signal into pictures and sound if used with a television set that is configured for analogue broadcast signal.
Conditional access is expected to prevent decoders from operating if they were sold outside of South African borders. But Namec, the SABC and MultiChoice reject conditional access and claim it is discriminatory and will allow broadcasters to withhold access to poor viewers who do not pay for services. MultiChoice subsidiary M-Net will also offer digital terrestrial television.
Free-to-air broadcaster e.tv insists on conditional access.
If Namec pursues a court case it would set back the roll-out of the national switchover to digital television which is meant to be completed by June 2015, an international deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union.
Last December, the South Gauteng High Court ruled that e.tv and other broadcasters, not Pule, must decide on conditional access. This led to months of delay as the parties tried to settle their differences. - Business Report