Funding crisis clouds World Cup TV plans

A funding crunch could delay South Africa’s plans to have digital broadcasting in place for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the chief executive of state-run telecommunications firm Sentech said on Thursday.

World soccer governing body Fifa has demanded that South Africa use a high-definition digital format when it begins broadcasting the World Cup matches to a global audience of some four billion people.

South Africa, the first African nation to host the championship, is spending billions of dollars to build stadiums and upgrade infrastructure. Switching television signals to digital from analogue is part of the effort.

Digital generally provides better picture and sound quality.

Sentech CEO Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, however, said a November 1 2008 switch-over target might not be met due to a capital expenditure shortfall.

“From a technical and logistical perspective Sentech is on track, but there is currently a capex shortfall of R295-million, which we are seeking from National Treasury,” Mokone-Matabane told Reuters in an email.

Sentech originally wanted R960-million to fund the digitalisation of the television network, but the government has allocated only R665-million, Mokone-Matabane said.

She said a further R918-million would be required once the two formats were on the network.

Obligations

Mokone-Matabane added that construction of satellite teleports and other World Cup-related infrastructure was on schedule and that the roll-out of digital broadcasting would be made available to the nine host cities on a prioritised basis.

“Sentech will meet its obligations for 2010 [by] providing the satellite back-up facility. The 2010 host cities will be prioritised in the roll-out of digital terrestrial television.”

Sentech is also experiencing problems funding its effort to extend broadband internet access South Africa, which has among the highest costs for the high-speed service in the industrialised world.

Critics have said that a lack of broadband coverage is reducing the country’s competitiveness and inflating the cost of doing business in Africa’s biggest economy.

Sentech was allocated R500-million in the current financial year to establish a national broadband wireless network, far short of its budget request of R3,1-billion.

Thoraya Pandy, spokesperson for the National Treasury, said the Treasury considered all departmental plans within a set budgetary process and that Sentech “will be dealt with in the same way to address any funding issues”.
- Reuters

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