Government to issue cut-off dates for new digital TV set-top boxes

Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane says the Ministry has established a Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) war room to implement the project and meet the international deadline for digital migration.

The Minister said this when she briefed the Portfolio Committee on Communications in Parliament on Tuesday.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has set June 2019 as a deadline for countries to have implemented digital migration.

The process of migration is will allow users to experience the many benefits of digital television which include, among others, clearer pictures and sound as well as more channels to choose from.

The department will soon announce registration cut-off dates for households to register for set-top box decoders. Set-top box decoders will be necessary to continue watching television when South Africa switches to digital television transmission.

“What we are worried about is to get the nation on board on the project. So we will announce a start date and an end date for registration so it can’t continue to be an open ended process.

“One of the issues we had to address was to put a project plan in place and also put a project office, a boardroom, we call it a war room on DTT.

“I met with the entire team across the value chain. We have representatives of National Treasury, we have representatives of the Department of Trade and Industry and we have representatives that are impacted on the project.

“Every Monday at 7am we have made that commitment because we are saying that the delay on the project necessitates for us that we can’t treat it as normal anymore,” Minister Kubayi-Ngubane said.

The Minister said the “war room” receives progress reports on a weekly basis on planned tasks and that this ensures that the DTT project team is able to tick boxes on deliverables.

“We think we are now ready in terms of our work.”

She said the department would be able to deliver on the project on time if given the necessary resources.

“The deadline of June 2019 is not a self-imposed deadline, it is an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deadline.

“So we need to meet that so our appeal to our colleagues in Finance and National Treasury is that let’s find mechanisms to fund this project so that we can migrate. We think we have been able to put in place all mechanisms to be able to migrate.”

Lessons learnt in roll-out of set-top boxes

The Minister said, meanwhile, that lessons have been learnt during the roll out of set-top boxes in the Northern Cape. She said more families registered for the decoders than was anticipated.

“The lessons learnt is that we anticipated 23,000 households to be registered, we ended up with 26 000.

“This is because the policy says we are migrating TV-owning households. When the community hears that there is this project that the government is involved in, those 3 000 households that did not have a TV went and purchased a TV at a pawnshop and all that we ended up with was an obligation to cover them as well.”

The Minister said the department had since requested Statistics South Africa to give them the number of households which are earning R3 200 and below in the country and out of that, how many own a TV.

There are five million households that are TV-owning and earn R3 200 and below. “If you are to include those that do not own a TV, then you come to seven million households.

“We had to go back and get a legal opinion to ask [if] we obligated to cover the two million who do not have TVs and the legal opinion says yes we are obligated.

Read: South Africans could sue the SABC over TV Licences: report

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Government to issue cut-off dates for new digital TV set-top boxes