The South African Department of Communications (DoC) is to lodge an appeal against a High Court ruling granting e.tv, SABC and free-to-air broadcasters control of digital set-top boxes.
In December, the High Court of South Gauteng found that Communications Minister Dina Pule acted beyond her powers in unilaterally awarding the control of state-subsidised set-top boxes to state-owned Sentech.
The appeal was lodged today, according to the DoC, citing that the ruling could have far-reaching future implications in the broadcast sector, particularly for new entrants to the market.
“The decision was taken after considering the implications of the judgment on other broadcasters, particularly potential broadcasters, in line with the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy,” the DoC explained in a statement.
“The appeal will be lodged today. The Department is also consulting with existing broadcasters and Icasa on the role of each party in the implementation of the conditional access as per the court judgment.”
Acting judge CG Pretorius had further ruled that e.tv, SABC and other free-to-air broadcasters had the right to control set-top boxes in the shift to digital television signal, while the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is the only entity entitled to regulate control – thus falling well outside Pule’s remit.
While e.tv has not yet commented on the DoC appeal, speculation has already begun as to the impact such an appeal will have on the delays to South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital television.
Despite the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) having put in place a mid-2015 deadline for completion of digital migration, initially South Africa self-imposed an ambitious timeframe of switching on digital signal in November 2008, while analogue signal was to be switched off by November 2011.
There have already been extensive delays to the self-appointed deadlines, with digital signal trialling having commenced in October 2012. The latest deadline promised by the DoC asserts that the switch-over will take place in December 2013.
Speculations are now circulating that the application for leave to appeal submitted by Pule and her Department may spell months if not years of further delays for digital migration plans, and may even jeopardise the ITU deadline of June 17, 2015.