ICASA has delivered itslatest report on the Digital Migration State of Readiness to the government, but it fails to set itself a new deadline.
All of Africa is obliged to switch fully digital and turn off analogue signals by June 2015 by the Geneva 06 Agreement with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Europe and Middle East are bound by the same agreement.
The conclusion on the 16 page, mainly background focused, report simply states: “ICASA remains committed to engage stakeholders on better and innovative ways to achieve the Digital Migration and Digital Dividend.”
South Africa has 15 licensed television services – three of which are public free to air. All public television is currently on analogue frequencies, while the commercial pay television stations are using digital satellite technology.
The regulator wants to be able to introduce more community television and public regional services, but there are not enough terrestrial frequencies available to accommodate them.
ICASA states broadcasting digital migration (BDM) will allow more opportunities for digital radio, high definition television and broadband services, because of the spectrum released by the switchover.
For example, a frequency carrying one channel will be able to carry more than eight channels with the uptake of digital technology. The same capacity used for one television channel could carry more than 50 radio stations.
Despite not needing to switch over until 2015, the country originally imposed a November 2008 deadline to switch on the digital signal and a November 2011 target to finally turn off the analogue signal.
The Southern African Development Community roadmap has scheduled the analogue switch-off for December 2013, but there is no mention of that date in the latest report.
One of the main stumbling blocks is the manufacturing, distribution and sale of an essential set top box (STB) to every household in the country.
The Universal Service and Access Agency has put aside R940 million (US$107 million) tosubsidise the STBs for the poorest people in South Africa, but the Government has yet to award the tender to company to manufacture them.