Local electronics manufacturer Tellumat warned last week that there could be further delays to the digital terrestrial television migration process if the department of communications’ appeal fails, a claim e.tv has denied.

Tellumat, one of the companies hoping to build set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television, says if e.tv succeeds in its bid for free-to-air broadcasters to manage the control system for the boxes, this could lead to further delays in the already long-delayed migration away from analogue broadcasts.

E.tv says the specifications for the set-top boxes were outlined before the dispute erupted and will not change should it and the SABC be allowed to administer the system, which manages encryption to ensure, among other things, that the set-top boxes that will be subsidised for poorer households are not stolen and sold across the border.

The department of communications last week said it would appeal against a high court judgment, handed down in December, which found that communications minister Dina Pule’s decision to appoint state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech as the manager of the control system was “unlawful”.

E.tv says its court victory will help speed up the already massively delayed migration process, but according to Shaun Hendricks, a managing executive at Tellumat, the judgment will have the opposite effect.

He says the department of communications has worked with manufacturers like Tellumat on developing the digital broadcasting specification needed for set-top boxes for five years and that the control system forms part of this.

Hendricks says the control system has not been finalised because e.tv and the SABC will have to appoint a vendor for the system should the department of communications be unsuccessful in its appeal.

Hendricks says e.tv could, potentially, change the specification baseline. “This will cause more delays, and the millions in investment would be lost,” he says. “To move the specification even just slightly would incur significant extra costs and delays. To integrate new conditional access vendors into one’s solution could take six months to a year.”

E.tv, however, disputes Hendricks’s claims. “It is incorrect that the effect of the court decision is that the set-top box specification will change,” says group head of corporate affairs Vasili Vass. “The set-top box specification has been finalised … and there is no intention by the broadcasters to attempt to change this.”

In addition, the specification states that free-to-air broadcasters will be responsible for the control system, “so the court decision is entirely consistent with the [South African Bureau of Standards] specification”.

All parties, including manufacturers, were aware that the specification left the issue of the control system in the hands of the broadcasters, he says.

Source: NewsCentral Media – Craig Wilson