Cape Town - Warning lights are flashing that
South Africa will not be ready to migrate its analogue broadcasting
system to a digital one in April next year, says Congress of the People
communications spokesperson Juli Killian.
Killian disagreed with the statement sent out by the
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications on Thursday
endorsing the department of communications (DOC) view that the process
was on track.
South Africa has to migrate to a new digital terrestrial TV
(DDTV) broadcasting system by 2015 in order to replace the current
obsolete system that has been in service since the 1970s, and to ensure
protection for its frequency spectrum in terms of international
Parliament's communications committee held public hearings
for the past two days to determine the state of readiness for this
migration. Presenters included the DOC, regulator Independent
Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), the department of trade and industry, SA Bureau of Standards and manufacturers.
During the hearings the DOC told the committee that the digital migration policy amendments had been gazette for public comments
and the process had to be completed by the year-end.
Killian said that the timelines were totally unrealistic and the regulatory framework was not in place.
"By the time the DOC and Icasa have sorted out their
regulation, it would be the middle of next year and the manufacturers
said they would need at least six to nine months before starting to
manufacture," she said.
Icasa caused a stir when it said it would repeal the current
regulations and start the process afresh. The previous regulations took
two years to complete and were subject to litigation.
Committee chairperson Eric Kholwane raised concern about the
coming public participation progress and amendment of regulations.
"I hope Icasa does not find themselves in a situation of
having to delay the launch date of DTT because operators get into a
process of litigation," he said.
Kholwane said the committee was pleased to hear that most of
the stakeholders in the manufacturing sector are ready for digital
migration if all goes according to the plans - policy and regulatory.
During the hearings the MPs questioned the affordability of
the set top box (STB), the unit needed to convert digital signals for
display on an analogue TV set for people who live below the breadline.
But while the committee welcomed government's proposal of a
70% subsidy, it ignored a presentation that a simpler version would
cost at least half of the DOC's proposal.
Democratic Alliance shadow communications minister Natahsa
Micheal questioned why the simpler and cheaper converter was not
considered, and said that she would be writing to Communications Minister
"Yesterday, during a meeting of the communications portfolio
committee, the department of communications revealed that it has known
since 2004 that a simple converter exists, at the cost of just R350 per
unit, to allow poorer households to continue to watch TV after the
digital migration process is complete. And yet, inexplicably, the department favours a R700 converter to perform the same function,"
Kholwane said: "The digital process must benefit historically
disadvantaged communities including blacks, coloureds and Indians as the
primary beneficiaries in job skills transfer and manufacturing
opportunities, and right through the value chain."