The South African Communications Forum (SACF), an industry body that represents some of the country’s top electronic manufacturers, has sharply criticised the recent amendments of the broadcast digital migration policies, labelling them short-sighted and confusing.

The forum’s chief executive Loren Braithwaite-Kabosha accused the Department of Communications yesterday of altering some agreements reached during consultations on encryption and the roll-out of television set-top boxes, as well as the general supply of electronic devices in the country.

“We have written to the (Communications) Minister (Faith Muthambi) thrice to seek clarity on these issues and we are yet to receive a response,” Braithwaite-Kabosha said. “It is putting the entire industry at stake and we risk leaving the country open to dumping of cheap set-top boxes that can overrun our industry.”

Last month Muthambi announced that the government had finally approved the digital migration amendment policy that would see South Africa move from analogue to digital terrestrial TV.

Muthambi said the approval given would see an access control system included in boxes – a move that many saw as a slap in the face of a directive from the ANC national executive committee, which in February said a cabinet decision taken last year in favour of encryption should be implemented.

The decision, in which the government said it would provide decoders to 5 million poor households who would be identified through a national means test, came just months before the June 15 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union for the move from analogue to digital TV.

But Muthambi’s spokesman, Ayanda Holo, said the government had laid out its roll-out plan in the gazette and that the decoders to poorer households would not have the ability to unscramble an encrypted signal.

“We actually went to Parliament and detailed our actual roll-out strategy per region and that the post office would assist in the distribution of the boxes,” Holo said. “We said we will start with the peripheral areas around our borders and make sure that it is done to mitigate interference with neighbouring countries.”

Holo said the amendment had addressed the concerns and uncertainty among industry players on standards, specifications and the protection of the electronic manufacturing industry in South Africa.

“The government has made it clear that set-top boxes brought from countries outside South Africa would not be compatible with our signal. Only locally made set-top boxes would be able to speak to the Sentech signal.”

Encrypting

Last month broadcaster e.tv took Muthambi to court and accused her of, among other things, preventing free-to-air TV stations from encrypting their signals as this would mean the owners of the 5 million subsidised boxes would be unable to receive their channels.

e.tv argued that because sellers of quality content, like popular series and movies for release on TV, demand assurance against pirating, this would also mean that this would cut it or any other would-be free-to-air broadcaster off from 60 percent of the terrestrial TV market and 35 percent of the total TV market of an estimated 13 million households.

The DA also called on Muthambi to account to Parliament for what it called dubious changes to the broadcast migration policy.

The SACF said the industry needed clear specifications from the department on the amendments.

Braithwaite-Kabosha said the department still needed to give more clarity on the bidding process for the manufacturing of the decoder.

“Why should we be guessing on what may or may not happen when we are already unlikely to meet the (UN) deadline,” she said.

Source: Business Report