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08 April 2011

SA's Digital Dividend

In presentations at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) digital dividend workshop in Johannesburg on 7 April, both M-Net and pointed out that it was premature to talk about how to allocate the digital dividend – the frequency spectrum that will be freed up once South Africa migrates to digital terrestrial television (DTT) – before digital migration was even on the starting blocks.

The date for the commercial launch of DTT is still to be set by the Department of Communications (DoC) in consultation with ICASA. In the meantime, Minister of Communications Roy Padayachie has set the deadline for the switch off of the analogue signal for December 2013.

M-Net’s head of Regulatory Affairs Karen Willenberg stressed that three preliminary issues need to be resolved before ICASA decides how to allocate the digital dividend.

Said Willenberg: “We believe that spectrum is the fuel that will drive change and development in South Africa and that consumer demand will continue to grow. M-Net’s viewpoint on the digital dividend is that certain foundations need to be put in place first. The resolution of what we see as the three preliminary issues – timing, definition, and process – will go a long way in ensuring South Africa’s successful digital migration.

“In terms of timing, some 11 million television households have to be migrated onto the digital platform. The digital dividend is dependent on the analogue switch off, but we haven’t yet switched off the analogue signal. Neither are we in the dual illumination phase, where both analogue and digital signals are broadcast in preparation for the final analogue switch off.

“At this stage the government has not yet finalised a subsidy scheme for set top boxes (STBs) for South Africa’s poorer households, neither is there an STB manufacturing policy in place. M-Net believes that timelines are critical as we need to know when the digital dividend will become available.”

In talking about the second issue – definition – Willenberg pointed out that everyone has a different idea of what digital dividend actually means. “We don’t think it’s correct to say that digital dividend refers to all the freed up spectrum. M-Net maintains that there are two aspects to the digital dividend. There is Dividend 1 (790 MHz), which is for mobile and broadband, while Dividend 2 (the band below 790 MHz) is for broadcasting. With regards Dividend 2 we have to ask whether ICASA will ensure that some spectrum will be used to create new multiplexes and whether it will be for commercial, community or regional TV and how much spectrum will be used for future services like HD or 3D.”

In terms of the third preliminary issue – process – Willenberg specifically meant the management of small blocks of spectrum that will appear once migration from analogue to digital is completed. “So there will need to be a second migration – the digital to digital migration – and this is something that has not been planned for. These small blocks of spectrum need to be arranged into a continuous stream so that they can be properly utilised.”

The rest of the article, including's perspective here.

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