The Free State is due to start losing TV signal this March – and Gauteng will be last
The department of communications intends to start switching off analogue TV signal distribution in the more rural parts of the Free State in March.
It has now committed to completing digital migration by 2020 – 12 years late.
Gauteng, and cities in other provinces, are due to be last to lose their until-now standard
TV broadcasts, because giving out set-top boxes to convert old-school TVs is harder there, the government says.
A “hard switch-off approach” is intended to “create demand” for such set-top boxes, or digital TVs.
In March, the more rural parts of the Free State will start losing analogue television
signal, the department of communications says, as part of an “aggressive” new approach to getting digital migration done.
South Africa had originally intended to move to fully digital television signals before the
end of 2010, and had an international commitment to complete the process by no later than mid-2015.
Digital TV signals use scarce radio spectrum far more efficiently than analogue signals,
yielding a dividend of frequencies that can be used for “high demand” services, most
notably next-generation mobile data systems such as 5G.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the first switch-off “from next month” in his State
of the Nation Address last week, saying the anticipation was for it to be completed before
April 2022. On Thursday he cited digital migration, alongside moves to increase renewable
energy generation and monitoring water quality, as “concrete demonstrations of progress”
In the first details to be shared of this new progress, communications minister Stella
Ndabeni-Abrahams and her department told Parliament this week that the Free State
would be first on the list, and Gauteng last. In between, cities would be passed over at
first in favour of more rural areas, so that Bloemfontein is likely to be the last part of the
Free State to have its analogue signal turned off.
The government started to distribute set-top boxes, which convert digital TV signals for
older analogue television, in 2015. That process has seen stops, starts, and a number of
missteps. There are now 7,000 such boxes installed in the Free State, said Ndabeni-Abrahams.
But the department of communications expects to speed up the process of getting
analogue TVs ready for digital signals by switching off the analogue signal, in what
director-general Nonkqubela Jordaan described as an “aggressive but controlled hard switchover process” to create demand.
The parliamentary oversight committee being briefed about this plan had some concerns.
In a statement chairperson Boyce Maneli pointed out that the department of
communications is still waiting for cabinet to finalise a “project rapid response team and the governance structure”.
The committee said it would like to have a clear roadmap of the switch-off sequence, and
“encouraged” various parts of the government to sort out funding for digital TVs “so that
learners from disadvantaged backgrounds can have access to online learning.”
The Universal Service and Access Agency of SA (Usaasa) believes it may be handing out up to 3.2 million free – or at least heavily subsidised – television sets to indigent households, in a massive voucher scheme.