For Immediate Release
Industry Perspective on Proposed Amendment of Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (“New BDM Policy”)
In its recent submission on the proposed amendment of the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy (“New BDM Policy”), the South African Communications Forum (SACF) fully supports the continued mandatory inclusion of a control system in all set top boxes to be sold in South Africa as outlined in the policy. The SACF believes there may be some misunderstanding of what was actually decided by Cabinet as set out in the New BDM Policy. Although the use of the control system by broadcasters is not mandatory, all set top boxes sold in South Africa will have to comply with the SABS standard which includes a requirement for a control system– both in the retail and subsidized market. SACF believes that the inclusion of a control system in the Set Top Box will promote industrial development, consumer protection, job creation, access to information and Black Economic Empowerment. Currently SACF represents six Set Top Box Manufacturers in its Industrial Development Working Group, all of which have significant black ownership and have been certified at level 2 or 3 for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment.
SACF formed an Industrial Development Working Group as we recognise the importance of building a sustainable Electronic Industry Manufacturing base in South Africa. We believe that this is one of the strongest reasons why the South African Cabinet decided to maintain the requirement for a control system as outlined in the New BDM Policy. Inclusion of a control system will support all local STB Manufacturers (including members of the Industrial Development Working Group) and prevent dumping by foreign vendors of products that would have negative impact on consumers’ experience of digital migration. The STB industry is expected to create 23500 direct and indirect jobs. From a long term perspective, without a control system, South African electronic industry manufacturers would not be able to use Digital Migration to create sustainable growth and ultimately thousands of jobs will be lost. Currently South African set top box manufacturers are operating at less than 40% capacity and to open the South African market to a flood of imports will be detrimental. With the five year delay in the commercial launch of Digital Migration, the STB manufacturing industry has taken a serious financial knock. They estimate their collective losses to be in excess of R50 million while they waited for the commercial launch.
The continued inclusion of a control system in the New BDM policy also means faster access to the Digital Dividend – the primary goal of digital migration. Only once digital migration has been successfully launched and concluded will this important spectrum be released to boost internet access and penetration in South Africa. If the Government had decided to drop the control system altogether then the SABS standard would have to be changed – at minimum this would further delay the launch of DTT migration by 6 months to a year. STB control is mandatory under SANS 862. Recently this standard was amended – however the language relating to the control system remain as previously stated.
Inclusion of a control system as outlined in the New BDM Policy will also better protect the interest of consumers. First and foremost, stolen or misused STBs which were purchased by the government can be remotely disabled. On its own, this will eliminate major potential losses, as well as protect the consumer by reducing the value of a stolen STB to zero. Importantly this New BDM Policy will also protect consumers from grey goods which have caused enormous audio, video and other problems experienced by consumers in other countries in which they have been allowed, such as in Mauritius. Consumers will be protected since manufacturers will only be authorised if their offerings fully conform to local standards.
The inclusion of a control system will also support the provision of internet access on the STB that was, itself, a subject of debate and controversy. The strong motivation for the inclusion of the so-called “return path” for internet access is that various departments of Government will be able to communicate their services and messages to TV households. The control system, as a broadcast operator’s management tool, completes the efficacy of the e-Government services to be offered. Once implemented, the operator would be able to send “targeted messages” to which a connected household would be able to respond accordingly.
Broadcasters have a choice as to whether or not to use the system – either now or at a later stage in the future. In our view it might have been better to keep the previous policy in place that the use of a control system in the STB’s be required across the board. However we have appreciation for the difficulties that Cabinet faced in trying to balance competing interests in changing the policy. Competing interests have been intransigent in trying to resolve their differences and the delay in launching digital migration has had tremendous negative impact across the ICT industry, including delaying the use of the digital dividend in South Africa. The approach taken will however enable the government to recoup the cost of inclusion of the control system from those broadcasters who use it.
The SACF fully considered the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (“BBBEE”) implications of implementing control system and has been an advocate for lowering the bar, so that the control system implementation does not become a hindrance to emerging and new entrant manufacturers gaining experience in manufacturing Set Top Boxes in South Africa. Government’s approach caters for emerging entrepreneurs in ways that are consistent with government’s BBBEE policies, legislation and regulations.
From its early start in 1993 as the African Telecommunications Forum, and subsequent evolution to becoming the South African Communications Forum (SACF) in 2001, the SACF has continued to be on the forefront of promoting transformation and Black Economic Empowerment within the South African ICT industry.
Loren Braithwaite Kabosha,
011 315 0590
# # #