Moves are afoot in the ongoing battle over whether set-top boxes should be encrypted or not when South Africa (eventually) introduces Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), already two years late. And it seems the procurement process for the manufacture of the set-top boxes will also be reviewed.
Business Day reported this week that new communications minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, is backing encrypted STBs, as it is ANC policy, but which is a departure from the stance of the former minister, Faith Muthambi. Muthambi in 2015 notoriously went against the policy of the African National Congress, the SACP and Cosatu when she supported non-encrypted devices.
Speaking to EWN on the sidelines of the recent World Economic Forum conference on Africa in Durban, Dlodlo is reported to have said, “I’m not going to change the ANC policy unless when we get to the party conference in December. The direction is that that policy must be changed”.
The ANC in 2013 elected to back encryption against the background of disagreement between South Africa’s various broadcasters – including MultiChoice, the SABC and e.tv – on how DTT should proceed, and whether STBs should be encrypted or not. Confusion has reigned ever since, with the SABC flip-flopping and e.tv embroiled in court action.
Policy, or not
It now falls to the Constitutional Court to rule on whether previous Muthambi followed the correct procedure in revising the policy developed by the ANC policy that was subjected to rigorous public engagement. “Muthambi’s action and subsequent legal challenges have delayed the rollout of STBs by two years,” the Democratic Alliance said in a statement.
The situation was complicated further by procurement and tender issues around the manufacture of over five million STBs to be issued to South Africa’s poorest citizens for free.
But at a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services addressed by the CEO of the Universal Service Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), Lumka Mtimde, it was revealed that government-sponsored STBs were being reviewed because of an irregular procurement process and unaffordability of the project.
“While unable to give specifics of the conversationsMti mde said the procurement process was being reviewed in light of there being limited funds from National Treasury to proceed with the current procurement and the Auditor General’s findings on the irregularities of the issue,” DA spokesman on telecommunications and postal services, Marian Shinn, says.
Shinn says Mtimde told the committee that government entities involved in the broadcasting digital migration (BDM) project met this past weekend with Minister Dlodlo and Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Dr Siyabonga Cwele, for an update and discussion on how to fast track the process.
No mention of PwC report
“Mtimde made no mention of the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ investigation, commissioned by National Treasury, that was delivered to Minister Muthambi last March. Portions of it were published on the Department of Communications website and clearly showed irregular processes were followed. Minister Muthambi failed to respond to the DA’s PAIA request for the full report,” Shinn says.
She says the the DA had called on the portfolio chairpersons of both Communications and Telecommunications and Postal Services last year to host a two-day public hearing into whether the STB programme was still technologically relevant, affordable and to review the seemingly corrupt tender process.
A joint meeting is scheduled for 6 June in order for committee members to be updated on broadcasting migration project.
Shinn pointed out that the International Telecommunications Union’s international deadline for switching off the analogue broadcast signals to make way for the airwaves to exploit digital technology for wireless broadband services as well as audio and digital broadcasting was 15 June 2015.
South Africa is still listed on the ITU website as not started, she says.