/ 11 August 2015

Muthambi insists digital migration on track

Faith Muthambi.
Faith Muthambi.

Despite the country missing the analogue switch-off deadline and with no clear new date in sight, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has assured Parliament that the Digital Migration programme is on track. 

The minister, her team, the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (Usaasa), and the South African Post Office (SAPO) were grilled on the availability of local content once the country has migrated to Set-Top-Boxes (STBs), the employment of local people as installers and the readiness of embattled SAPO to carry out its part of the project. 

And while the millions in shortfall needed to carry out the project were raised as a concern by various MPs, as well as the number of households that might not be able to afford the STBs once they are in circulation and the qualifying criteria of the 26 manufacturers who won the tender, the minister is adamant that the digital migration will be a success. 

Addressing three committees in Parliament today, Muthambi said a lot of work has been done in the past five months to ensure the country was ready for digital migration. 

“We are on track to help the Broadcast Digital Migration programme be realised in South Africa. The project management is working tirelessly to ensure the successful implementation.” 

In a presentation to the committees, Solly Mokoetle, programme head of digital terrestrial television, said they estimate that they should be able to sort out signals and receptions in the next 18 to 24 months. 

“That should lead us to the period of switching off the analogue. We are ready for that. In terms of the analogue switch off, we have concluded that South Africa should adopt a phased switch off in order to achieve primary objectives like protecting services from cross-border interference.” 

Sapo’s chief executive Mlu Mathonsi decked in a bow tie to signify his confidence in his entity and assured the committee that they were ready for the distribution of the STBs, even with the limited funding. 

In a presentation, Sapo said that although funds approved by treasury for the distribution only amounted to R146-million, they will start and continue with the rollout until funds had been depleted or they received the balance of the R771-million that they needed to carry out the project. 

Muthambi said they had doubled their effort and deployed a lot of resources to ensure the process runs. 

“It’s a priority number one project in the department. We are prepared to make sure this process moves. We were taken to court around March, but we have never stopped implementing the project.” 

‘Contingency plans are in place’
Muthambi said the post office, which is facing financial difficulties, would also be supported and be ready to deal with the roll-out when the time came. 

“There is progress. The intervention that is happening in the post office is yielding results. I can assure you that contingency plans are in place. And Sapo has recovered from where it was. Like it or not, there is progress in Sapo as we are speaking and they will have the capacity to deliver on this project.” 

In a presentation, Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa said when the programme was ready, they would need about 17 000 installers per day to meet the demand. 

ANC MP Maesela Kekana said those installers should be local and from the communities and suggested a ward to search for qualified community members. 

“In whatever they are doing, they should ensure that the community benefits. We understand that the law says 30% of local content, but in the case of special installers, let us go for 100% local people. Community must benefit. The people must share. They should go back and restart the process of installers. We know that there are many installers in each ward in South Africa. Why don’t you give it to those people? It is time for people to benefit. We must not think about people only when we want them to assist us,” said Kekana. 

Usaasa chief executive Zami Nkosi said it was not feasible to go door to door. 

“The recruitment of installers has to undergo the proper process because the money that is involved is over the R500 000. We are not able to go ward by ward. We use existing structures to encourage people to respond to these tenders. There is no provision in the law that says Usaasa must go door to door to go and recruit people. We have to follow the law unfortunately,” Nkosi said. 

The public broadcaster, led by chief executive Frans Matlala and chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng also assured the committee they were ready and had been since 2010. They said they are working to ensure there is enough local content to satisfy South Africans, when Digital Migration became a reality, one day.