Local manufacturer Tellumat says etv’s win in court, which allows set-top box controls to be handled by free-to-air broadcasters, is a blow to the sector, which has spent millions investing in conditional access.

Etv took the Department of Communications to court last year, arguing that the department’s May selection of Sentech to handle controls was unlawful. Controls are meant to stop subsidised boxes that are stolen from being used, and prevent grey products entering the market.
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The South Gauteng High Court found the free-to-air broadcasters should handle controls and that the issue should be regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA).

The department has subsequently decided to appeal the matter, saying it raises aspects that it did not originally consider. At the same time, it says it continues to have discussions with broadcasters to find a solution that will not delay migration.

SA was meant to turn on digital TV last month, after a successful soft launch in the Northern Karoo. However, the court bid meant the department could not issue tenders for the about five million subsidised boxes, and turn on has been delayed.

Already been done

The judgement will not speed up digital television, contrary to what etv claims, says Shaun Hendricks, Tellumat’s managing executive responsible for set-top boxes. The DOC has worked with manufacturers like Tellumat on developing the digital broadcasting specification, solutions and market strategies for five years.

Last year, the department issued a request for proposals to manufacture the boxes. About 37 companies responded and the tender was meant to be awarded in October, but has been pushed out due to the legal wrangle.

“The prospect of serving the market with solutions based on a certain baseline specification, and the opportunity this presents, has been foremost in the minds of manufacturers for some time,” Hendricks says.

The specification was finalised a year ago, settling a number of undefined specification areas including the control system. Hendricks says the company and other manufacturers have invested millions in developing systems that are compliant with the specification.

Wasted time

Hendricks says manufacturers responded to the DOC’s request for proposals and developed solutions based on the published specification. “If etv’s win is upheld on appeal, and the station is given equal rights to managing the system, and they insist on changing the existing specification baseline, this will cause more delays, and the millions in investment would be lost.

“To move the specification even just slightly would incur significant extra costs and delays.”

Hendricks explains that to integrate new conditional access vendors into solutions could take six months to a year. In addition, he says, if two conditional access vendors must guarantee performance of the box, a nightmarish customer service situation becomes the most likely scenario, in which neither wants to take responsibility for faults.

“To complicate the situation unduly is not in consumers’, the industry’s or the country’s interests. It only serves the narrow interests of a few. One would hope the department would see its way open to pursue a solution that is both legally sound and pragmatic.”

Etv was not immediately able to comment, but indicated it would provide input at a later stage.

Source: ITWeb – Nicola Mawson