Communications Minister Khumudzo Ntshavheni stated in parliament during a debate on last week’s state of the nation address that the department of trade, industry, and competition is preparing a notice prohibiting the importation of analogue television sets.
Ntshavheni said her department – communications and digital technologies – is waiting for trade and industry Minister Ebrahim Patel to publish the notice, which she said will happen “shortly.”
She asserted that the measure would help the local production of digital-capable television sets. “In the future, we don’t want to utilise decoders,” she said, referring to the requirement for ageing analogue televisions to use set-top boxes to get digital broadcasts once analogue signals are switched off.
South Africa is years behind schedule in transitioning from analogue to digital terrestrial television, though Ntshavheni and her boss, President Cyril Ramaphosa, have re-energised efforts to complete the task. Both have stated that the analogue switch-off will be completed by the end of March this year, a deadline that appears unlikely to be met because a major player in the industry, e.tv parent eMedia Holdings, has filed a lawsuit against the minister for what it believes to be an overly aggressive approach to ending analogue broadcasts. eMedia claims that its business interests are being harmed. As a result, the case will be heard before the high court on March 8.
Ntshavheni, on the other hand, maintained in her speech to MPs that the government is “on course” to complete the analogue switch-off by March 31.
“Analogue Switch-Off has been completed in five provinces: the Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo. “We’re on course to complete the remaining four provinces in February and March — two in February and two in March,” she said.
Sentech, the state-owned broadcasting signal distributor, has begun the process of “digital restacking,” which entails shifting broadcasters out of the “digital dividend” bands. The above mentioned has been completed in the Free State, she said. This month, North West will be completed with digital restacking for Mpumalanga and Limpopo scheduled for March.
Digital restacking is a crucial part of the digital migration project because it frees up spectrum in the 700MHz and 800MHz bands – known as the digital dividend bands – to allow communications regulator ICASA to license them for mobile and wireless broadband services.