Digital Migration Hurdles [opinion]

Uganda scraps Dec.31 migration deadline, UBC loses signal distribution mandate

With the international deadline for migrating from analogue to digital TV broadcasting barely six months away, Uganda has chosen not to stick to its national switch off deadline of Dec.31. The Dec.31 deadline was set after several extensions. Though regional counterparts Rwanda have fully migrated from the analog, Kenya and Tanzania are also on course apart from Burundi, which might not even beat the June 2015 international deadline. A top official at Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) told The Independent that the various players in Uganda are now working towards meeting the international deadline of June 2015.

Fred Otunnu, the acting director for broadcasting, who also doubles as the head for communications at the UCC, said the process of digital migration now is that we would switch to digital technology and then gradually switch off analogue. However, given what is not yet done, some analysts say the June 15 date might also be a tall order, a suggestion that Otunnu dismissed.

“We believe the June 2015 deadline is achievable,” Otunnu said on Nov. 28. He said greater Kampala is already covered by digital signals and the commission plans to work with the signal distributor to roll out transmitters to other parts of the country come Dec. 31. We will keep switching on wherever there is footprint such that between that time and the switch off period [June 2015], we are ready. In the process of switching on, analogue will steadily be eliminated, Otunnu said. It is important to complete the migration because after June 2015, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will not entertain any complaints from countries that have not yet migrated about frequency disruptions from neighboring countries. The migration is expected to improve the consumers’ TV experience in terms of better sound and picture quality on top of freeing up space in the frequency spectrum that will be used to provide more TV channels and other ICT services.

“By the end of March 2015, we should have 80% of the country covered,” Otunnu insisted.

Ready players

Vendors of set-top-boxes and pay TV service providers said they are doing all they can to enable the country beat the deadline. They have all cut prices of the decoders by almost a half. Tina Wamala, the publicist for MultiChoiceGOTV, said that whereas this year, the company has seen a jump in set-top-box sales largely because of the World Cup, UCC should up its game on public information and education about digital migration process.

Simon Arineitwe, the Azam TV general manager for Uganda, shared a similar view. He said UCC should work with pay TV service providers to ensure that the process is a success. He suggested that UCC and the various pay TV service providers need to strategize in regard to public education and information. Uganda has about three million TV sets but the number of those already hooked onto the digital platform is yet to be determined, according to Otunnu. While some would be willing to buy decoders from the existing pay TV providers, not many can cope with monthly subscriptions at a minimum of Shs 15,000 per month. Free to air set top boxes would be the quick solution but the price – Shs 150,000 – Shs 180,000 – is still on the high side for most households though it would be a one-off without a need to pay monthly subscriptions.

Five companies including Trans-African Container Transport Ltd, Syscorp International Ltd, Brivid Uganda Ltd, Icomsys Africa Ltd, and World Technologies Ltd have been licensed by the UCC to import the set-top-boxes. “We believe the Shs 150, 000 – Shs 180, 000 average price for a set-top-box is affordable since it is a one-off transaction,” Otunnu said. As more companies get licenses to import the decoders, the price is expected to go down.

UBC out of signal distribution

Also, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), which had earlier been mandated with the role of distributing the digital signal, has contracted Signet, an Indian company, to take charge of the exercise. Signet will officially launch on Dec.11. Other broadcasters had complained about a competitor being the signal distributor, which UCC appears to have listened to. But sometime back, UBC allegedly failed to raise money to acquire equipment for signal distribution, which forced the UCC to intervene by raising about $2 million to acquire the equipment.

Otunnu said UCC would offer the support to Signet to acquire the equipment to be rolled out in all parts of the country. Signet will make its money by charging a fee for carrying the signal to the various content providers. UCC will also charge Signet for using the spectrum, Otunnu said. The fees are yet to be determined. “Our role is to make sure that Signet does not overcharge content providers so as not to make business expensive,” Otunnu said. On the issue of public education, Otunnu said they are soon rolling out a countrywide awareness campaign. They will be doing road shows with officials using caravan buses to educate and inform the public. The campaign will be backed by radio and TV and other media aerts.

Source : The Independent

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