THE Cabinet has decided that the set-top boxes required for the migration to digital terrestrial television will have a control system but the use of the control system will not be mandatory.

Broadcaster welcomed the decision. Group chief operating officer Bronwyn Keene-Young said was “pleased that the government will distribute its subsidised DTT (digital terrestrial television) boxes with set-top box control as well as allow free-to-air broadcasters to choose whether they want to encrypt their signal.

“This allows for free-to-air broadcasters to ensure their content is protected and allows a strong basis for the commercial launch of DTT.”

The set-top boxes will have a control system to protect the government’s investment in the subsidised set-top box market and the local electronics industry. It will also allow broadcasters to make use of the control system in future should they not want to use it now.

The decision formed part of amendments of the broadcasting digital migration policy agreed upon by the Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday.

The decision puts to rest strong disagreements with broadcasters over whether the set-top boxes or decoders should have a control system or not. This dispute has delayed the move towards digitalisation by about 18 months.

To avoid subscription broadcasters unfairly benefiting from the set-top box control system in this context, the Cabinet decided that the government’s investment in the system would be recovered from those subscription broadcasters that chose to make use of it.

“The 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,” Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, who is acting minister in the presidency for performance, monitoring and evaluation, told a media briefing Wednesday on the Cabinet decisions.

She said the criteria used to decide on the set-top box amendment included the need for speed on digital migration, especially to release radio frequency spectrum; ensuring the government subsidy is used productively; stimulating the local electronics industry and creating jobs; benefiting emerging entrepreneurs; reducing prospects of the South African market being flooded by cheap set-top boxes that are not fully functional; protecting the interests of the SABC; and being sensitive to rapid changes in the broadcasting and information and communications technology sector as a whole.

The decision would also “reduce the extent of monopolisation and encourage competition by creating space for new players in the pay-television market without unfairly benefiting from the government subsidy (and) reduce the prospects of legal action from broadcasters and entrepreneurs that would hold-up the migration process”, Ms Motshegka said.

The Cabinet also approved the national broadband policy, strategy and plan, known as SA Connect, which it believes will contribute significantly to economic growth, development and job-creation.

The overall goal of the plan, Ms Motshekga said at a post-Cabinet media briefing, was to achieve a universal average download speed of 100MBPS by 2030.

“To reach this target in a progressive manner, there are reviewable targets starting with an average user experience speed of 5MBPS to be reached by 2016, and available to 50% of the population and to 90% by 2020.

“Targets are also set for schools and clinics and general public-sector connectivity. The rapid evolution of broadband technology means that these targets will be reviewed annually,” she said.

The Cabinet also approved the gazetting of the national integrated information and communications technology policy green paper for public consultation.

“The green paper deals with the need to amend policies and regulations to take account of the rapid changes in ICT in recent years. Among the issues it focuses on are telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services. Public hearings will be held in all the provinces early next year,” Ms Motshekga said.

Source: BDLive – Linda Ensor