Digital TV control systems allowed, but not mandatory: Cabinet

In a move aimed at speeding up the roll-out of digital television in South Africa, Cabinet has okayed the use of a control system in digital television set-top boxes (STBs).

Briefing the media in Pretoria on Thursday, following the executive’s fortnightly meeting the day before, acting government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said the use of a control system was not mandatory.

She said Cabinet had approved changes to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy, which related mainly to whether the STBs, also known as decoders, should have a control system or not.

“Cabinet decided that the use of a control system should not be mandatory. The STBs will, however, have a control system to protect government’s investment in the subsidised STB market and the local electronics industry…,” she said.

Criteria taken into account in reaching this decision included:

  • the need to speed up digital migration, especially to release radio frequency spectrum;
  • ensuring that the government subsidy was used productively;
  • stimulating the local electronics industry and creating jobs;
  • reducing the prospects of the South African market being flooded by cheap STBs that were not fully functional;
  • protecting the interests of the SABC;
  • reducing the extent of monopolisation, and encouraging competition by creating space for new players in the pay television market without unfairly benefiting from the government subsidy; and
  • reducing the prospects of legal action by broadcasters and entrepreneurs that would hold up the migration process.

Williams said that to avoid subscription broadcasters unfairly benefiting from the STB control system, the government’s investment in the system would be recovered from subscription broadcasters which chose to use it.

“Cabinet urges all parties to move on from their previous differences and work together with the government in rolling out digital migration as soon as possible in the country’s interests.”

Debate about whether conditional access should be built into digital television STBs has been holding up the roll-out of digital television in South Africa.

The government aims to complete the so-called migration to digital television by mid-2015.

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Digital TV control systems allowed, but not mandatory: Cabinet