S African switch-off looking shaky

Rose Major

South Africa’s analogue switch-off date of end-2011 is likely to be reviewed, after officials from the communications regulator said it might advise the government to lengthen the analogue/digital simulcast period.

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) councillor Robert Nkuna said that the switch-off date of November 2011 would be retained at present but may eventually be changed.

“The authority will consider advising the minister to review the current dual illumination [simulcast] period, since commercial switch-on did not take place on November 1, 2008, as initially planned,” said Nkuna.

Icasa only opened its consultation on proposed regulations for DTT in April this year, with a broadcasting frequency plan due to be finalised by the end of August. Three multiplexes will be available, with the first providing free-to-air services from the public service broadcaster SABC, the second free-to-air services from commercial broadcasters (including 60% to e-tv) and the third available for pay-DTT services on condition that pay broadcaster M-Net is able to complete the switch-off of its analogue service within one year. M-Net will be allocated 50% of the third multiplex, plus an additional channel at the end of the simulcast period.

Under current rules, DTT services must be available to 50% of the population by the end of 2009 and 95% of the population by the end of 2011.

Southern African Development Community countries, which include Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as South Africa and a host of smaller nations, recently agreed to aim for digital switchover by 2013.