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Digital migration: Explore opportunities

Publishing Date : 22 June, 2015

Author : EDITOR

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has ceased to protect analogue users from signal interference. Botswana, along with other countries who are signatories to the ITU, has an agreement to facilitate the migration of broadcasting services from the analogue format, to the Digital Terrestrial Television platform. It is commendable that Botswana has managed to meet the digital migration deadline (17th June 2015) ahead of a host of other African countries.

We have been informed that Africa’s digital transition in broadcasting has the potential to improve both the quantity and quality of what is available on television and to increase the number of people who will be able to watch it. Admittedly those spearheading the migration say Batswana still have to learn a lot of the basics of the technical issues and the wider policy issues on the subject.

We learn that the digital transition in broadcasting is a global process involving the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting signals. There are a number of countries who have completed this transition and many more who are making the transition.

While Botswana has started completing the process, we are alive to the fact that Batswana’s understanding of this process is naught. This therefore means that policy shapers have a lot of work when it comes to educating Batswana on what really digital migration means.

The digital transition raises questions around on who will get access to the new channels created. It offers a moment to reflect on what Botswana public interest broadcasting might be and the business models that could be used to underpin its public interest purposes.

We are of the view that the migration brings with it numerous business ideas, which must however be screened accordingly. Government cannot just go into this costly exercise and not emphasise on the benefits that come with it. There are costs for digital production equipment, for digital transition equipment and for set-top boxes and digitally-enabled TVs.

Batswana must indeed see the benefits of the digital broadcasting which we understand offers the possibility of more channels which can include those in vernacular language. Of course this will only happen overtime and not instantly. Our policy shapers need to harvest these benefits and explore the possibility of widening the economy through this platform or industry. It offers the opportunity of manufacturing the said set boxes or decoders and all that is associated with ensuring signal quality.

The digital transition also offers an opportunity to review the effectiveness of local production quotas and of Government schemes that support local production. The advent of a possibility of more channels should give local producers an opportunity to have a market for their content. This also brings in the question of whether government through the Botswana Communications Regulation Authority (BOCRA) will allow more channels into the spectrum.

Broadcasting and telecommunications are often treated as separate, vertical markets. However, although we are not experts on this subject, but we hear that digital convergence means that telecoms operators become more involved in broadcasting and broadcasting companies are looking at how they might deliver Internet and voice services. This is yet another opportunity that must be exploited by those with the know-how and skills to do so.

The challenge for Botswana and regulators is that the digital transition has potential thumbs downs which include the cost of set-top boxes to receive digital TV signals. But at the end of the day, any service will attract a cost, those mandated should emphasise more on public education before the full rollout of the digital migration. Digital migration is a top priority undertaking in Africa, we cannot escape it.

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