Switching off analogue TV signal outright risks 'destroying' SABC - communications minister
The outright switching off of the country's analogue TV signal has the potential to destroy state entities like public broadcaster SABC and signal distribution entity Sentech, Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said on Thursday, while briefing the portfolio committee on communications.
Government has started the process of switching off the Free State province from the analogue TV system to move it to digital terrestrial television (DTT).
So far one million indigent households, out of 4.7 million, have been registered to receive a subsidy to cover the cost of set-top boxes, their installation and aerials. The set-top box is necessary to decode digital television signals.
As of 28 February, a total of 507 000 households had been connected to the digital signal. The analogue switch-off date is planned for July 2020.
Ndabeni-Abrahams told the committee that while government would like to conclude the switch-off process, unsubsidised households will not have access to set-top boxes because they are not available in the retail market. Only satellite products like DSTV are available.
If the unsubsidised market opts for satellite products, it would affect Sentech.
"If the unsubsidised market, which is bigger [than the subsidised market] goes for satellite, it means we are destroying Sentech and the SABC, which is not on the satellite platform," Ndabeni-Abrahams told the committee.
The department will meet with manufacturers of set-top boxes to find how best to deal with the problem, she said.
"Our interest is to protect the public broadcaster, Sentech and government money."
Ndabeni-Abrahams said there were many challenges in the digital migration process, which have persisted for more than 10 years.
"No minister has finished it or done it successfully. I think it is high time for government to reconsider the approach and the decisions it took in relation to this," she said.
Ndabeni-Abrahams added that to continue the registration of the remaining 3.7 million households which qualify for a subsidy would require R4.9bn, which the department does not have.
"If we continue [providing] the 100% subsidy, we need R4.9bn that is not there. That is the reality we are faced with, as much as we want to switch off everyone."