The Democratic Alliance has called on President Jacob Zuma to remove Communications Minister Faith Muthambi from managing the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) policy and its accompanying legislation, and to restore these with urgency to the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services.
Marian Shinn, shadow minister of telecommunications and postal services, says Minister Muthambi is about to fail to meet her own deadline of “concluding the migration” from analogue to digital broadcasting in the Northern Cape by 1 January 2016.
The Northern Cape was to receive 16 000 decoders or set-top boxes (STBs) in the first phase of government’s plan to ensure 5-million identified indigent households can continue to watch TV programmes once the analogue signal is switched off, but this is now materially impossible.
Shinn says the deadline will fail for two main reasons:
* No government ordered STBs which went into production in August/September, have reached the Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) which is managing the programme; and
* Only 2 074 (of the 2 336 identified indigent households who have so far applied) have qualified for free decoders. The remainder have failed to qualify because they do not have valid TV licenses.
This lack of decoder delivery is aggravated by two issues, she adds:
* Free-to-air broadcaster eTV has successfully taken its challenge to the encryption clause in the controversially revised BDM policy to the Supreme Court of Appeal; and
* Minister Muthambi’s October announcement that she has requested the National Treasury to investigate the decoder procurement process.
“This means that USAASA is uncertain whether to formally halt the production process to await the outcome of eTV’s appeal and the National Treasury’s enquiry,” says Shinn. “I am told that USAASA has written to Minister Muthambi asking for direction on this issue but there has been none forthcoming.
“This lack of political leadership and policy missteps by Minister Muthambi that has seemingly stalled the perpetually failing transition to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting, with its vast dire political, legal and financial implications, may be behind the sudden resignation last week of USAASA chairperson Pumla Radebe,” Shinn adds.
“USAASA, along with the South Africa Post Office, has been ready to manage the logistics process of the BDM programme for the past year.”
The current delays can be laid at the door of Minister Muthambi, she says, explaining that in August/September USAASA issued orders for 1,5-million decoders from three ‘manufacturers’ – BUA Africa, Leratadima and CZ Electronics; and 1,5-million antennas and satellite dishes from Ellies Industries, QEC and Temic Tshwane East Manufacturing.
These orders are worth R1,322-billion, – R995,745-million for the decoders and R326,77-million for the antennas and dishes. They were to be delivered to USAASA in a phased approach started from 15 November and ending on 15 March 2016.
“None has been delivered nor paid for,” Shinn says.
Since the Department of Communications took control of the BDM, Shinn points out there have been protracted wrangels in the telecommunications sector.
Meanwhile, South Africa is the only SADC country that has not transitioned to digital broadcasting, and one of the few left in the world that is listed as not yet having started the migration process. This is has further aggravated the digital divide between those who have access to internet and the marginalised communities that don’t, while inhibiting e-government service delivery as well as the potential economic growth and job creation opportunities that come from inclusion in the global digital economy.
It has also collapsed the boost to the government’s electronics manufacturing strategy that was to open the doors for BBE entrepreneurs to gain a foothold in the sector and create jobs, created expensive legal battles over policy decision and – should there be further delays with the decoder production process – legal claims from the tender “winning” companies, as well as jeopardized the cash injection the Post Office has been expecting from its role in managing the decoder application and delivery process.