Africa thrashes about digital TV migration

9 February, 2012, Danstan Kaunda

Africans’ smooth transition from the old analogue television broadcasting system to a modern digital system is said to be facing a ‘catch-22’ due to lack of both financial and human resource skills need to enable this technology switch.

Television: out with the old, in with the new. Image credit autowitch

Funds to support such projects in most African countries as per 2006 Geneva Agreement by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are delayed.

The ITU 2015 deadline for all countries to go digital is[frax09alpha] fast approaching but most developing countries are short of both financial and human resource capital needed for the projects.

Already the digital TV migration in most African countries is lagging behind schedule.

Major African economies such as South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are making some headway in the digital convention by shifting financial resources from other key sectors of their economy to fund their digital TV migration projects.

In the case of Eastern African giant Kenya, the digital television migration project needs about Sh1.5 billion from the next national budget. But Kenyan government is only allocating Sh 450 million. The country is in a Sh 1.05 billion shortfall before the end of year.

Kenyan Medium Team Expenditure Framework (MTEF) reports that: “Digital television transmission in Mombasa has not been accomplished due to lack of funds”.

South Africa plans to complete the process of migrating by 2013. It originally set the switch-off date for November 2011 but changed it to 2013.

In most developing countries funds needed to set up digital transmission infrastructure will hardly be enough to cover the entire digital migration.

According to the Zanzibar Broadcasting Cooperation (ZBC), the majority of residents on the island own over 300,000 analogy television sets just like in most developing countries.

“Despite the fact that the shift is costly, it is worth adopting,” said Abdallah Mitawi of the Zanzibar Broadcasting Cooperation (ZNB).

In other cases, governments are putting efforts and sourcing financial support from the donors to fund digital projects.

“Zanzibar government is finalising talks with the Exim Bank of China to provide a loan for the digital project in Zanzibar before the deadline,” said Ambassador Seif Ail Iddi, second vice president.

This year East African countries plan to switch- off analogue broadcasting systems come the end of December. Once the analogue broadcasting signal has been switched off, those with analogue TVs will need a Set-Top-Box (STB), a device that enables a television set to become a user interface to the Internet and also enables a the set to receive and decode digital signals.

Some African governments are reported to subsidise the STBs for the “poorest of the poor”. But critics are challenging African governments that if they are finding it difficult to fund the convention how are they going to subsidise the STBs for the poor?

E-waste, primarily the analogue TV set, is also becoming a worrying issue in most African nations as it is considered a threat to the environment and natural resources. But some governments have already introduced taxes on the importation of analogue television sets.

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