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Carrim vs Patel: The battle rages on

MultiChoice and the Communications Minister are still at odds over multiple channels.

FILE: The ongoing public battle around set-top boxes continues.

JOHANNESBURG - The ongoing public battle around set-top boxes continues, with Communications Minister Yunus Carrim and MultiChoice Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Imtiaz Patel squaring off.

e.tv has been pushing for digital migration, which is the switch from analogue to allow for multiple television channels.

Carrim argues they need to do this by means of an allegedly affordable set-top box with encryption technology for poorer households to receive the latest channels.

Nearly 8 million households in South Africa will need these devices.

e.tv argues set-top boxes will allow the station to compete with MultiChoice.

Patel has slammed e.tv and accused the broadcaster of being "disingenuous", saying government should not subsidise this migration.

Carrim hit back at Patel on The Money Show late on Monday, saying, "Firstly, Mr Patel is speaking for the privileged. The vast majority of the disadvantaged will never be able to afford a digital TV for years to come, according to our studies."

The minister accused MultiChoice of being a bullying monopoly, suggesting it has shot itself in the foot.

Patel said, "Nowhere in the world does government pay for this set-top box, except for the Ukraine.

"Why bring in set-top boxes when we will eventually get around to phasing out analogue TV completely? South Africa will be left with set-top boxes in perpetuity.

"The box is nothing but a temporary solution. As time passes, you may have a million people who have a digital TV, all of whom would not need a complex set-top box the minister is proposing.

"It's complex because they want to include in this box what they call 'encryption technology'," said Patel.

"The average life of the box is about three to four years. When the box breaks you will need a new box. So you will have to fork out another R700 every time the box breaks."

TechCentral founder and editor Duncan McLeod said he saw no end to this war.

"It's difficult to separate fact from fiction in this argument. There's commercial benefit for both sides. While both sides argue from a South Africa first perspective, it's difficult to say what South Africa actually needs on this particular matter."