African Tech Review: Digital Migration progress is vital in 2013

For African politicians and officials involved in the increasingly protracted Digital Migration, 2012 has been a year they would rather forget, but how realistic is significant progress over the next 12 months?

With Mauritius the only country on the continent to have completed the switch from analogue to digital signal, even Africa’s heavyweights of technology and infrastructure – Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa – are scrambling to catch up in order to meet the agreed June 2015 deadline.

There is a lot of talk, promotion of the expected benefits and planned conferences for 2013, but the talk is cheap and there are some embarrassing own goals which will need to be rectified quickly.

Dina Pule, South Africa’s Communication Minister, was successfully challenged in the High Court earlier this month after she wrongly granted total set top box control to publicly owned Sentech.

South Africa’s non-journey towards complete Digital Migration has been an embarrassing one so far with self-imposed deadlines for 2008 and 2011 already missed.

The set top box wrangle was the latest obstacle, but there is hope now it has been resolved and the added competition which e.tv, SABC and other free-to-air broadcasters will bring to the market could reduce the cost and certainly increase availability of the vital commodity which every television owner will need to receive the new digital signal.

Unfortunately every silver lining has a cloud, and by taking away responsibility from Pule, the baton is back in the hands of the equally mistake-prone Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

ICASA officials told HumanIPO earlier in December, before the conclusion of the court case, that they were not overly confident the Geneva 06 Agreement – for migration by 2015 – would be met.

Kenya suffered its own miserable end to 2012 concerning the digital migration. The analogue signal in Nairobi was due to be switched off on December 31, but for the High Court ordering a suspension of the process to allow the Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) to bring their own case against the imminent switchover to court on January 11.

The consumer lobby group argues the switch-off will leave many Kenyans without access to civic education, particularly important given the upcoming March election.

Similar to South Africa, it is the availability and cost of the set top boxes which is preventing millions of people from being able to take part in the migration.

The Kenyan government does appear to be ahead of the game compared to South Africa, and it can at least be said they are trying to speed the process up – even if a little too quickly for some.

Its success in 2013 will be heavily influenced by the outcome of the Cofek case next month however.

In Nigeria, the primary obstacle appears to be a lack of understanding by the public and not just in the rural areas.

The Nigerian government was also guilty of setting an over ambitious self-imposed deadline and missed its June 2012 target. It has yet to even publish its White Paper, which is expected to outline the framework for the migration.

Publishing that document early in 2013 would be a good start, but it already appears Nigeria is falling increasingly behind in the switch-over race.

Posted in: Telecoms

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