OPINION: Kenyans thrown to the sharks in digital switchover fiasco

Almost three weeks are left until the digital television switchover in Kenya with a general indication that people are not ready to switch from the analogue system. Is the government doing enough? That’s arguable, what is not is the government’s logic in leaving consumers to deal with the sharks in the business.


From the high cost of the DVB2 set-top boxes to the current private broadcasters, the Kenyan consumer has not been protected from those looking to make large profits in the business.

If one opts to go and buy the service from the main competitors, namely DSTv (including GoTV), StarTimes, and Zuku, they would have to be tied down to monthly payments which they did not expect to incur. Although there are those middle-income families who would not mind paying KSh500 (US$6) to KSh7,000 (US$80) for the services, the majority, who are low-income earners, cannot afford it.

If TV owners opt for this avenue, then it means that TV channels that were once free would have to be paid for. StarTimes offers “FEW” local channels even when the monthly bouquets are not subscribed for, although it is never specified. The Kenyan government should have entered into an agreement with the digital broadcasters and made them offer the local free-to-air channels at no cost even if the premium packages are not paid for.

This would work well for the companies, as it will edge them closer to more customer conversions.

The government has also failed to address the issue of flexibility of the set-top boxes shipped into the country. It would be more productive if the devices could switch to any of the private broadcasters so that TV owners would not need to buy separate ones for specific services.

Most people are still being led into buying “digital” television sets, which in reality are “not ready” to receive digital signals. The government seems not to have educated Kenyans on which brands are digital and which ones are not. For the common consumer, once they see a flat screen 42-inch television that can be hung on the wall, they assume its digital.

There is little or no information about this switchover, in contrast to the fake mobile phone switch-off and the SIM-card registration campaigns that the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) successfully educated Kenyans on.

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