Although the Department of Communications (DOC) has backtracked on the idea of set-top box controls, free-to-air broadcaster etv is waiting for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to sign off on the control tender process.

The controversial issue of conditional access has held up digital migration for about a year, after etv took the DOC to court over its decision to have Sentech handle controls last year. The broadcaster won its bid and the parties have since agreed that broadcasters will appoint a controller, subject to the authority of the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

However, the department has made a decision to now remove conditional access in a bid to speed up the process. Set-top box controls were meant to be used to stop grey imports from coming into SA so that the local sector is protected.

Conditional access was also meant to stop subsidised decoders from being stolen and used outside of SA’s borders. Government will cover 70% of the cost of about five million decoders for the poor.

Speeding up

Communications minister Dina Pule has said she would soon release a revised draft broadband digital migration policy dealing with the set-top box controls, inviting stakeholders to provide their input on the areas being revised.

n her recent budget speech, Pule said the department would review set-top box controls to make them non-mandatory to speed up migration. SA was meant to turn on digital television towards the end of last year, but has yet to issue a tender for the subsidised boxes, which need to start moving into the market before digital television can be turned on.

The DOC has since issued an erratum through advertisements in major papers, saying the issue of controls, in the form of Nagravision, which Sentech was set to use, had been dropped from the tender.

Spokesman Siya Qoza says the decision has been made to remove controls. However, this does not seem to have been communicated to broadcasters, as etv says it is uncertain as to the meaning of the minister’s comments in relation to controls and it is waiting for a formal government notice.

In the meantime, the control tender process has already been approved by etv and is pending SABC board approval. The SABC did not respond to a request for comment.

Etv COO Bronwyn Keene-Young says current policies mandating controls “cannot be changed willy-nilly” so it is continuing with the process on the basis of the policy.

Source: ITWEb Software – Nicola Mawson