Government should ensure poor households access free set-top box before analogue signal switch-off

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The Public Media Alliance says the government should ensure poorer households have access to free set-top boxes before they can completely switch off analogue signal.

South Africa’s digital migration was delayed earlier this year, with no set implementation date. This after the Constitutional Court ruled to strike down government’s digital migration plans to allow more poor households to obtain set-top boxes.

The government had set a target of March 2022 to complete digital migration.

South Africa has yet again failed to implement a set date to switch off analogue signal to digital migration. This will hamper the country’s efforts to move to digital transmission set out by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

Harry Lock is the editorial manager at Public Media Alliance and his organisation monitors and shares public broadcaster challenges. It has members from across the world. Although his organisation supports digital migration – he says it will have a negative impact on public media and poorer communities.

Video: Delay in implementing Digital Migration Policy deny SA households universal access to information

More poor households will have no access to information if they cannot afford the set-top boxes either.

“Public broadcasters and public service media need to be available and accessible to everyone, but what that means is if you move to analogue switch off digital switch over how might that affect audiences? Ultimately it comes down to whether audiences will still be able to access any other public service media organisation and so that comes down to well who are the communities most affected by it. It’s often those who are often lower income who are unable to access when the technology advancement is beyond their means,” says Lock.

Lock says failures surrounding digital migration in South Africa is the lack of transparency and information regarding the set-top boxes.

“It seems like there is still a lack of clarity around who has the set-top boxes, how many people are eligible for the set-top box provided by the government and how many people still don’t have one how many have registered and that lack of data is a concern because how big of a decision this is going to be. Media in South Africa cannot afford to be left behind other neighbouring countries and the rest of the world when it comes to technology because it does need to keep up,” says Lock.

Public Media Alliance is urging government to invest properly in digital transformation and make sure the transition is seamless and affects the least amount of people as possible.

Video: South Africa is ready for digital migration, says Ntshavheni