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Africa plays catch up after missing migration deadline

Africa plays catch up after missing migration deadline.

Out of Africa's 54 countries, only five are listed on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) website as countries that have successfully met the deadline for migration from analogue to digital broadcast. The countries are Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The continent's technology powerhouses, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, were listed among the nations where the process is ongoing. Even though Zambia claimed it had completed the migration process, ITU has included the country on this list.

Other African nations continuing with the process include Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, among a host of other countries - but excluding the Central African Republic, Liberia and Libya where the process of digital migration is yet to start, and Djibouti where there is no clear indication of the migration status.

Early commencement paid off

In Malawi, the decision of the various stakeholders to commence the process on time was largely responsible for the successful achievement of digital migration before the deadline.

According to Fergus Lipenga, director of broadcasting at Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), the country's digital migration process has had the support of government since 2010.

He told Nyasa Times that some of the strategies used included the deployment of affordable set top boxes and network upgrades, including the installation of digital transmitters across the country. He added that the installation will continue until the entire country is covered before the end of the year.

Tanzania kicked off its digital migration process in 2006 with an amendment of its broadcasting laws in order to legally support the transition to digital.

This is not the case in some of the African countries that failed to meet the deadline - many citizens only became aware of the digital migration process a few weeks before the expiration of the deadline. Nigeria is an example.

"It was just about two months to the expiration of the deadline that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) began to take the matter seriously and it was then that it began to actively engage the broadcasting companies. I think the process started rather late here in Nigeria. Similar things happened elsewhere that the deadline was not met," said Seye Awoyemi, a Lagos-based broadcasting engineer.

Awareness

In Rwanda, the country was able to achieve digital migration about a year before the deadline, a feat that was achieved as a result, in part, of a high level of awareness among the citizens and government officials.

Innocent Nkurunziza, technical director at the Rwanda Broadcasting Authority, said they informed politicians, government officials, and everyone knew how the country would benefit from this process.

He said the Rwandan government, which owns the national broadcaster, Rwanda Television (RTV), was informed that carrying on with analogue broadcasting would eventually necessitate that new transmission towers be built for RTV and seven other TV stations in the country.

"That would mean more money spent on equipment, land, and overhead costs like electricity," he said.

Nkurunziza added that armed with this information, the government threw its full weight behind the initiative. Rwandans, he said, were informed that they would enjoy the freedom to choose from more channels.

"More channels mean more choices, more information. The other thing with digital broadcasting is that it suffers no degradation of signal as is the case with analogue," he said. "If you have an analogue TV set, all you need to do is buy a decoder. Those without TV sets can go and buy digital sets and an external antenna."

For Tanzania, the country's Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) commenced a public education roadshow in April 2011; the president of the nation also launched the Digital Tanzania campaign in August 2011. In the end, the massive awareness and sensitisation made it much easier for the country to completely switchover ahead of June 17.

"Our government through the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has allowed introduction of DTH to complement the DTT services. With that, Tanzania is now having 100% digital signal coverage using DTT and DTH. Tanzania has managed to have smooth and successful migration from analogue to digital television ahead of the set ITU deadline of 17th June, 2015," said Tanzania's Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Fenella Mukangara.

Partnerships and centralised coordination

Awoyemi noted that one of the reasons why Nigeria could not meet the deadline was due to the lack of identification of necessary partners and centralisation of the digital migration effort.

"Everyone was doing stuff on their own – GoTV was going from one city to another, StarTimes was doing the same and PR agencies were having a field day publishing sponsored advertorials in glossy pages of publications. Meanwhile there was no way to track the various efforts, prevent duplication and ensure everyone was reached. That was why those that weren't in the media and broadcasting space saw digital migration as just another opportunity for some people to make money since citizens still don't know what digital migration is all about," he said.

Impact of population sizes

Adedapo Oluseyi, who worked with the NBC as a consultant, noted that the enormous size of the Nigerian population was a major reason why the country could not achieve digital migration.

He explained that unlike Malawi with a population size of 16 million, Mozambique with 25 million people, or Rwanda with 12 million people, Nigeria has to deal with ensuring that over 170 million people migrate from analogue to digital.

"Not taking anything away from the countries that had successfully migrated, we cannot overlook the fact that it would be much easier for Mauritius to migrate its 1.3 million people before the deadline than what Nigeria has to do," Segun said.

According to Segun, only Tanzania has a large population among the African countries with 49 million people which he said is not even up to one-third of the population of Nigeria. "The cost of digital migration in Nigeria would be much larger than what the five countries that met the deadline in Africa spent put together."

NBC cited a lack of funds as one of the main reasons for the country's inability to meet the 17 June deadline.

The director-general of the commission, Emeka Mba, said the commission was only able to internally raise money with which it was able to set the roadmap for the actualisation of digital migration and was able to provide "some skeletal infrastructure" that will help drive the exercise.

He added that Nigeria would require over US$300 million (NGN60 billion) for the migration exercise, but the Nigerian government has not released the funds.

Meeting new deadlines

Since many African countries did not meet the June 17 deadline, several of them had already announced new deadlines that would expire next year. Many experts believe the new deadlines may not be achieved either.

"Just take a look at Nigeria for instance. The digital migration frenzy ended on June 17. No concrete action had been since that day to ensure that Nigeria meets the new deadline. It is even saddening to note that several state governments ordered for analogue transmitters for the television stations in their state. NBC is yet to make any noise about the non-release of funds. No one knows the current status of the digital migration and I'm sure they will start pointing accusing fingers again when the media starts a countdown one month to the new deadline. Then, I'm sure we will start hearing about it again. However, it would be too late to do anything meaningful considering the numerous issues that are yet to be resolved as far as digital migration is concerned in these African nations," said Awoyemi.

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