Facelift to digital migration policy


Tayyibah Suliman, senior associate, Technology Media and Telecommunications practice, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, has written the following opinion piece about South Africa’s protracted digital migration project: Suliman writes: In 2008, the Department of Communications (DoC) published its Digital Migration Policy (Policy) setting out a three-year plan for South Africa to transition from analogue television to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

Some five years later, South Africa is yet to actually commence the transition, having experienced various delays in publishing and retracting the DTT Regulations, including selecting the applicable digital standard and also delays encountered with choosing an appropriate strategy to provide set top boxes to the wider populace.

On 7 and 17 February 2012, the DoC published its amendments to the Policy. Interestingly only a few additional amendments were introduced in the later version, including a definition for ‘regional television’, deleting the r reference to unique identifiers for set top boxes and the reference to a set top box system that will preserve government’s investment.

The revised policy indicates that DTT will now only be switched on in the last quarter of 2012 and the Minister of Communications (Minister) has recently indicated that analogue signals will only be switched off at the end of 2014, with completion of the digital terrestrial project scheduled for June 2015.

On the dual illumination period during which both digital and analogue signals will be broadcast, the policy provides that two national multiplexes will be prioritised for public, commercial and community broadcasting services. The policy does, however, also state that even though the digital migration process revolves around incumbent and particularly free-to-air broadcasters, there is a commitment from government to “…increasing diversity of ownership and content of the broadcasting sector and facilitating the development of a dynamic, competitive environment

After the debacle on possibly changing the DTT transmission standard in 2010, the policy now categorically states that South Africa will adopt the DVB-T2 digital standard that has been the preferred global standard. In areas that are not covered by the digital signal because they are difficult to reach, it is intended that a ‘direct to home’ satellite will be provided using DVB-S2 “or any other technology”.

Notably, the revised policy also provides for more ambitious deadlines in terms of which the national broadcasting digital signal is to be extended in a phased manner with a view to covering 74% of the population by early 2012 and 95% of the population by the end of 2013. From a practical perspective, the Minister has said in an interview that signal distributor Sentech is making progress in the roll-out of DVB-T2 transmitters and the DoC anticipates that digital signal will cover more than 60% of the population by March 2012.

Importantly, after having gone through numerous iterations of Digital Terrestrial Television Regulations published by Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the DoC has committed to ensure that ICASA publishes revised regulations in the near future with the hearings on the current draft regulations having been held in mid-March 2012. It is intended the final regulations will ultimately be aligned with the revised policy.

As it stands, the revised policy seeks to capture the current status on the digital migration process and will hopefully assist the broadcasting industry, the DoC and ICASA with garnering some momentum to ensure that South Africa is able to successfully transition to digital television before the June 2015 International Telecommunications Union deadline, when analogue signals will no longer be protected.


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