SA is racing to meet the digital TV migration deadline. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Johannesburg - Only 3 600 e.tv viewers along South Africa’s borders face having their television signals disrupted after the country missed an international digital migration deadline.
This is according to details revealed in a Gauteng High Court judgment, which on Thursday dismissed broadcaster e.tv’s bid to reverse Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi’s decision to exclude encryption on subsidised set-top boxes.
Shifting analogue broadcasters to digital signals in South Africa is expected to open up more television channels and frequencies for faster mobile broadband.
However, battles among broadcasters and a decision by President Jacob Zuma to split the Department of Communications last year has delayed the digital migration process in South Africa.
On June 17, South Africa missed a digital migration deadline that was set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in 2006.
Neighbouring countries such as Mozambique have already made the switchover, meaning that signal interference could be on the cards for South Africans living on borders.
"Sentech SOC Ltd... which is responsible for the transmission of e.tv's broadcasts estimates that only 3 600 people receiving e.tv on terrestrial television will be likely to suffer some form of interference,” read the judgment.
The judgment also disclosed that missing the digital migration deadline is not a problem for South Africa, according to e.tv.
"South Africa has not yet started with the digital migration process, but may do so shortly, and it is alleged, on behalf of the applicant (e.tv), that no ‘calamitous’ effects will result from South Africa missing this deadline,” the judgment said.
"Indeed, there are many countries who will not meet the deadline. Moreover, because of South Africa's geography and the limited interference likely to come from its neighbours, the impact on members of the public missing the deadline of 17 June 2015 is not severe,” said the judgment.
SA a 'non-starter'
South Africa is not alone in failing to meet the digital migration deadline but it is among just a few countries that have not even started the process.
Last week, Fin24 reported that South Africa is part of a group of 20 countries that are non-starters on digital migration. This list includes the likes of Armenia, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan and Sierra Leone.
However, ITU data said that Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi have completed their digital migration projects while the process has started in a further 29 countries on the continent.
The ITU also said that it is unable to help countries such as South Africa that have missed the deadline.
“They will have an obligation to immediately resolve any harmful interference that may occur, either affecting neighbouring countries that have implemented the transition or emanating from other sources,” Sanjay Acharya, chief of media relations and public information at the ITU, told Fin24 last week.
“And they will have abrogated their right to international protection,” Acharya said.