Local contract manufacturing, communications and defence group Tellumat has raised concerns over the recent finding of the South Gauteng high court for e.tv and against the Department of Communications (DoC).
The free-to-air channel successfully argued that the DoC could not give Sentech, the state-owned broadcasting signal distributor, the rights to manage the control system in the set-top boxes (STBs) to be used in the impending digital terrestrial TV migration.
The court found that only ICASA, the broadcasting regulatory authority, can do so. Subject to ICASA’s powers, e.tv, the SABC and other free-to-air broadcasters are responsible for the set-top box (STB) control system for free-to-air digital terrestrial TV, it reportedly ruled.
Held up as an important victory by e.tv – which has said the development “will speed up” the already massively delayed migration process – the judgment will have just the opposite effect, says Shaun Hendricks, Tellumat’s managing executive responsible for the set-top box.
The DoC has worked with manufacturers like Tellumat on developing the digital broadcasting specification, solutions and market strategies for five years.
“The prospect of serving the market with solutions based on a certain baseline specification, and the opportunity this presents, has been foremost in the minds of manufacturers for some time,” Hendricks says.
The specification was finalised a year ago, settling a number of undefined specification areas including the control system – also known as conditional access (CA). Among others, the CA system will ensure compliance with a minimum set of specifications for STBs and prevent grey imports.
Hendricks says the company and other manufacturers have invested millions in developing systems that are compliant with the specification.
“All of them responded to RFPs and developed solutions based on the published specification. If e.tv’s win is upheld on appeal, and the station is given equal rights to managing the system and they insist on changing the existing specification baseline, this will cause more delays, and the millions in investment would be lost.
“To move the specification even just slightly would incur significant extra costs and delays. To integrate new conditional access vendors into one’s solution could take six months to a year.”
In addition, he says, if two CA vendors must guarantee performance of the box, a nightmarish customer service situation becomes the most likely scenario, in which neither wants to take responsibility for faults.
In the end, he says, there are no easy answers to the conundrum, but a solution must be found.
“To complicate the situation unduly is not in consumers’, the industry’s or the country’s interests. It only serves the narrow interests of a few. One would hope the DoC would see its way open to pursue a solution that is both legally sound and pragmatic.”