The Right2Know Campaign and & SOS Coalition have published a Call for Inclusive Digital Television and Free Set-Top-Boxes.
Download the PDF here.
In summary, the migration from analogue to digital television will determine the communication landscape for years to come. It has the potential to ensure everyone receives a vastly increased number of TV channels, transform ownership patters, as well as free up valuable spectrum that can ensure greater access to high-speed Internet.
However there is a great risk that digital migration will entrench the current communication inequalities or fail completely:
- Every household will require a new Set-Top-Box (STB) to receive digital TV. The high cost of STBs, estimated between R700 and R1300, will prove prohibitive for many who will be cut-off from television entirely: No one should be cut of from television. We demand Free Set-Top-Boxes for all.
- Government is proposing a limited STB subsidy for households that can prove their poverty: Apart form the unnecessary expense and bureaucracy involved in administering this proposed subsidy, no one should have to suffer the indignity of proving their poverty.
- Naspers/Multichoice is using their satellite TV monopoly to offer low-cost DSTV decoders and draw people away from public free-to-air television. We demand that Set-Top-Boxes must be interoperable so people can move between service providers without needing new hardware;
- New channels could be given to the current dominant broadcasters: We demand that ICASA allocate at least 50% of all channels be public and community TV and that additional channels be allocated to new entrants into the market;
- The successful take up of Digital TV will depend on new channel offerings that incentivise people to migrate during the dual illumination period. The SABC’s 24 hour news channel (currently available only on DSTV) as well as the Parliamentary Channel and all Community TV stations currently on air must all be made nationally available to ensure take up of digital TV.
- The electromagnetic spectrum (the airwaves) that the migration process frees up for telecommunications could be given to the existing four telecoms corporations to further entrench their dominance and profiteering practices: This spectrum is a national resource and must be used to increase access to the internet and enable new telecoms companies – including public and non-commercial operators – to offer services.
- The rollout of STBs will essentially put a basic computer in every home. Government want these to be a ‘dumb box’ with only one piece of proprietary software that allows the passive reception of television. We demand that the STB be a ‘smart box’ that remains useful even when users buy new digital television sets. The STB must use a free/open-source operating system and include sufficient connection ports to become part of a low-cost Internet access point (e.g. for USB keyboards, dongles, a mouse etc).
- The manufacture of STBs could become another site of tender fraud and corruption, cost increases and delays: The Government must justify its decision to manufacture STBs locally and ensure complete tender transparency.
- Government has already paid a communication company R756 million to explain digital migration to the public. There is no evidence of any impact. Poor communication and consultation will make the migration to digital television unworkable: Government must ensure total transparency of all cost and price information as well as proper public consultation on migration policy.
If we do not act, it is likely that in the future, South African television will divided along Apartheid lines: Like our education and health already, there will be an expensive private service for those that can afford it, but the majority will have to make do with a poor quality public service, and those most marginalised could be cut off from receiving television completely.