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Consumers bear brunt of digital TV delay, says lobby group

Consumers bear brunt of digital TV delay, says lobby group

South African consumers are paying the high price caused by the delay in the switch-over from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT), says the National Black Consumer Council (NBCC).

Yesterday, NBCC secretary-general Raynauld Russon told 702's Xolani Gwala the organisation is trying to get hold of the digital migration stakeholders to determine why the process has been delayed for so long.

Russon told the radio host that mobile operators' data costs have stayed very high because the national spectrum has been consumed by television signals due to the delay in the migration from analogue to digital.

"We think somebody is culpable and must take responsibility for that. We are meeting with the minister on the 17th [of August] to try and establish who exactly is responsible for the delay."

In the same interview, Willington Ngwepe, CEO of the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), agreed consumers have suffered due to the delay.

"The delay means we haven't received the benefit that comes with the completion of the migration. The digital dividend benefits that would have ensued had we migrated timeously, we still haven't realised them."

The Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) programme, facilitated by the Department of Communications, is one of the key projects government has identified as a way to improve the lives of South African citizens.

When the country switches to DTT, it will make radio frequency spectrum available, which is currently occupied by analogue services for other broadband and broadcasting services. Mobile operators are eager to see the full implementation of the project, as this will unlock the necessary spectrum they have long been calling for.

However, the BDM project has long been on the back foot and the migration date has been moved numerous times, with the latest promise being that the switch will be completed by June 2019. SA missed the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union for countries to complete the full switch from analogue to DTT.

To fast-track the BDM project, the communications ministry last month appointed members to serve on the advisory council dedicated to digital migration.

At the time, the department said the council's immediate task is to advise communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane on the analogue switch-over plan, which includes the countdown to the Free State switch-off by December, as well as measures to accelerate the uptake of DTT by citizens.

It was also revealed that Mokonyane will table the delivery model before Cabinet in the coming weeks.

#DataMustFall interventions

Since 2016, South Africans have been calling for mobile data prices to come down under the social media banner #DataMustFall.

Initially, the social media campaign was led by radio and media personality Thabo 'Tbo Touch' Molefe. The campaign resulted in Parliament's portfolio committee on telecommunications and postal services spending two days in September 2016 hearing submissions from government, civil society organisations, telecoms operators and the public on the cost to communicate using mobile data.

This led to ICASA in June 2017 announcing its intention to conduct an inquiry to determine the priority markets in the electronic communications sector, followed by the publication of the discussion document this year.

The Competition Commission followed in August with its own inquiry into the high price of data services in SA. In October 2017, ICASA announced a third study, this time an international benchmark study to compare data pricing in SA with other countries.

This year in June, the authority announced plans to hold public hearings on the cost to communicate in SA.

ICASA explained the dialogue would centre on a discussion document on priority markets published in February, part of the regulator's second phase cost to communicate programme, including the reduction of data prices in SA.

"Due to the public outcry with regards to the high cost of communications and in particular data services, in 2017 ICASA initiated a process to identify a list of markets that depict the likelihood of ineffective competition, which could be detrimental to consumers in the form of high communication prices, low quality of service," it said.

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