With the 31 March deadline for the switch-off of analogue TV (ATV) fast approaching in South Africa, public broadcaster the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has highlighted its concerns about the potential impact of the switch-off on the public.
SABC says it supports the plan to switch off all analogue TV transmitters but says that doing do by 31 March this year, despite the slow progress of set top box (STB) registrations and installations, presents an unsustainable risk to the rights of millions of poor households. “A premature switch-off will deprive millions of people from important public television services,” it says.
The four provinces designated for switch-off on 31 March 2022 comprise 68% of South Africa’s population. As at February 2022 only 165,000 STBs out of 2.9 million poor households had been installed in the four outstanding provinces. “This number is simply too low for the SABC’s ATV services to be switched off in the four largest provinces, at this stage,” says the SABC.
The SABC does agree that the migration to digital television will enhance the quality of offerings, expand competitive advantage, and empower the public with more content variety and choices. However, it feels the analogue switch-off timetable should be extended to ensure that no South African is left behind or denied access to free-to-air television and public television services.
Of course the timing of the switch-off of South Africa’s analogue TV signals is also of interest to mobile operators who want to expand or roll out 4G and 5G networks. Given that they may want to make use of some of the freed-up capacity – the so-called digital dividend – any long delay could be problematic.