Cabinet approves migration from analogue to digital TV

The yet-to-be published policy includes provision for set-top boxes with a control system.

Department of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. Picture: GCIS.

CAPE TOWN - Cabinet has approved the government's policy on migrating from analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television or digital TV (DTT).

DTT is set to replace the analogue signal used to transmit free-to-air channels such as the SABC offerings, and an array of community stations.

The yet-to-be published policy includes provision for set-top boxes with a control system. All the viewer needs to do is get hold of a set-top box (STB), known to many as a decoder, which will unscramble the signal sent over the airwaves and received via rooftop aerial.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi told journalists at Parliament the control system will be a security feature and will not provide for encryption or conditional access.

"That is merely a security feature so that the box cannot be used outside the boundaries of South Africa."

Muthambi says the government will provide more than five million poor households with free STBs.

"Government for the 2014/2015 financial year government has budgeted a total of R3 billion."

Muthambi says South Africa won't meet the international deadline to switch off analogue television signals by 17 June, but she says Cabinet's approval of the policy allows for the roll-out of set-top boxes to begin.

"We are prepared to say that come 17 June we will have started the switch on as per country."

In 2006, at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), it was agreed that all European and African counties would prepare to make the move with a deadline set for June/July 2015.

The retail price of a basic STB is expected to be below R1,000 with no subscription required.

In 2014 industry players and civil society leaders met to debate the move to DTT.

The current format offers far lower sound and picture quality than will be possible through digital transmission. Further, there will be more room for new channels and content while broadband penetration will be widened.