Yet another deadline for broadcast digital migration

The rollout of the year-long switch-off of analogue television (TV) transmitters will be finalised by March next year, says the minister of communications and digital technologies, Stella-Ndabeni Abrahams.

The previous deadline for the digital migration project was March this year. 

“We are starting the rollout in the Free State, where our focus is on subsidised houses, and we will move to other non-subsidised homes. Over 7 000 spectrum boxes have been installed in the Free State now,” said Ndabeni.
“We will also be commencing installation in the Northern Cape and North West this month. We are working with municipalities to assist us in getting the capacity of installers we need.” 

Gauteng will be the last to receive the analogue switch-off.

The minister criticised what she called mediocrity and laziness that has plagued some entities working with her department. “Some of the issues in these organisations, such as the South African Post Office and the SABC are at the bottom, where people are not doing their jobs, and some are being lazy and don’t report wrong-doing. This ends up being a problem for the whole organisation.” 

During his State of the Nation address (Sona), President Cyril Ramphosa said he expects the switch to digital to be concluded in all nine provinces by March 2022.

South Africa had missed the International Communications Union’s mid-2015 deadline to complete the switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT). Over the years this project has been riddled with delays, ministers reshuffled and financial controversies. 

 On Tuesday, the department briefed the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications regarding its progress.

Director general Nonkqubela Jordaan said the big cities in all nine provinces would be the last to get the switch and receive spectrum boxes.

“For example, in the Free State, Bloemfontein will be the last to get done. Because it has many house numbers, we will do it at a later stage. This is how we will do it in all nine provinces. Places like Port Elizabeth, Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg will all be the last to get the spectrum boxes,” said Jordaan.

“Demand is being created through the hard switch-off approach and concerted marketing and awareness. An aggressive but controlled hard switchover process is currently being implemented in provincial phases. We are also having continuous engagement with the local electronics manufacturing sector to trigger market availability of affordable decoders. We want to ensure the skilling of local installers as well, so that they will be able to assist quickly in their communities.”

Committee member Phumzile van Damme said she is not convinced that the department would meet its targets. “I still really need to be convinced, I do not think the targets and timelines the president announced will be met. The department has, over the years, failed and had struggles with this digital migration.”

Deputy minister for communications Pinky Kekana admitted there had been delays with the digital migration process, but this time the department is determined to finish it by March next year.

“The March 2022 timeline has to be met; the onus is upon us to make sure this happens. Championing this project will also assist the struggling SABC. They will be able to offer multiple more channels, and create revenue to address some of their problems”, she said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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