7 August 2008
The government has approved the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy for South Africa’s conversion of television broadcasting signals from analogue to digital, while also approving the local manufacture of set-top conversion boxes.
The migration has been made necessary due to developments in telecommunications technologies, which enable a more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum, as well as ensure better quality of pictures and sound.
Once migration begins, television users will have to purchase locally manufactured set-top boxes which convert the digital signal for use on currently available analogue TV sets.
The decision to promote local manufacture of the set-top boxes in high volumes will provide a boost for the local electronics manufacturing sector and help create additional jobs.
Subsidised set-top boxes
The government has also agreed to help approximately five million of the poorest television owning households, by providing up to 70% of the cost of set-top boxes. Funding for this subsidy could possibly be sourced from the Universal Service and Access Fund.
In February 2007, the government agreed that South Africa’s digital signal would be switched on on 1 November 2008, and its analogue signal switched off on 1 November 2011.
This allows for both the digital and the analogue signal to be broadcast concurrently for a “dual-illumination” period of three years.
According to the Department of Communications, it is on track to start broadcasting a digital signal on 1 November 2008, and will provide digital broadcasting and mobile TV by 2010.
Increasing access to information
Digital broadcasting enables providing services in a multiplicity of languages, thereby increasing access to information, while it will also allow viewers to access on-screen programme guides for the various channels.
The inclusion of a return path compatibility feature enables the user to send and receive messages through the set-top box, which could see them serve as important tools for access to government information and services in the future.
The feature could enable the provision of fully interactive e-government services over the digital network, such as accessing, filing and submitting various government-related forms, without the viewer having to leave the comfort of their own home.