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Home » News » General » Batswana dodge digital migration

Batswana dodge digital migration

Publishing Date : 23 October, 2017

Author : REARABILWE RAMAPHANE

Technical challenges linked with the procurement and distribution of set-top-boxes has undermined the much hyped analogue- to–digital migration in Botswana. Government is struggling to get companies to commit to selling and distribution the technology that will ensure that the migration is successful.


At the SADC-SABA Broadcasting Forum held in Windhoek, Namibia recently, Botswana decried the lack of locally produced content as one of the reasons why the digital migration is slow. But on the sidelines of the Forum it emerged that potential distributors of set-top-boxes had approached government for tax rebates and or discounts should they import the gadgets for later re-sale in Botswana because of the costs involved. However Government is not keen on the proposals.


Just recently Government put an advert on the Daily News publication urging companies with the capacity to order and sell set-top-boxes to raise their hands and get free advertising in all government media. It is understood that Government wants to launch Btv 2 but the challenge is – who will watch it, where? The view of insiders at Mass Media is that 9000 demonstration set-top-boxes cannot validate a television channel launch. The 9000 set-top-boxes are not sold anywhere in the country, they could only be found at Mass Media and were distributed by means of call in competitions.


Botswana is said to be also still battling issues of limited manufacturing or assembling capacity of Set Top Boxes (STBs), economic challenges, unfavourable terrain requiring gap fillers in many areas and inconsistent disbursements of funds for digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration. The Windhoek Forum also established SADC countries that have not yet migrated to (DTT) and are facing a lot of challenges ranging from a lack of finance, shortage of expert human resources and lack of attractive local content.


In the last session of parliament, the Minister of Presidential Affairs and Governance, Eric Molale revealed that his ministry had wished for set-top boxes to be produced locally. “We identified a number of young persons who have the suave to do things that relate to technology, Information Technology (IT) and the like. All the time when they were ready to start production, they then gave excuses. We are still encouraging more to come forward so that these set-top boxes are produced here, so that they can even be exported to other countries in Africa.”


The minister highlighted that that set-up would have led to the funds being retained locally. Botswana delegates at the forum also submitted that there was serious lack of local content to fill in the broadcasting space. Currently Botswana Television viewership continues to diminish in the wake of new entrant, Kwese. Previously Multi-choice and South African television networks dominated local viewership.


Although it was launched 17 years ago, BTV continues to be heavily criticised for its lack of content and recycling programmes. The television station is viewed as lacking entertaining content, particularly for the youth who make up 60% of the population.  However, the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sports & Cultural Development has been in the process of setting up a commercial, sports and entertainment channel, BTV 2.


Albeit digital migration went live in June 2015, the new channel which was expected to feature on the Digital Terrestrial televised set-top box together with the traditional Botswana Television 1 have yet to beam any content. Reportedly, neither channel has content to air. The main challenge for Btv 2 is how it will be accessed by the population because there appears to be a problem of set top boxes.


This publication also established that an amount of US$2.5 million (approx. 21 million pula) has been earmarked to assist local producers in creating programmes for sports viewership and entertainment documentaries and native films for the 2017/18 financial year. This will add to over 180 million pula which has already been used in the entire analogue to digital transformation 2 years ago.


Officials continue to be aggrieved by the slow pace at which the transition is effecting, so far, a lot of households still cannot get hold of set-top boxes; there are delays in the release of the digital dividend and there is continued use of analogue TV frequencies, especially by neighbouring countries, which officials say delays the release of the valuable DTT spectrum. At least 50% of Botswana households run on analogue transmitters while only a few consumers in urban areas have already received DTT on satellite, according to the department of broadcasting.

PROGRESS IN OTHER SADC COUNTRIES


Meanwhile other SADC countries are also facing an uphill battle in the transition process of analogue-to-digital migration. Malawi is among the only four SADC Member States, including Namibia, Tanzania and Mauritius who failed to successfully migrate from analogue to digital before the set deadline of 17 June 2015.


According to Zadziko Mankhambo, Broadcasting Manager at the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority’s (MACRA), Malawi like Botswana is facing inadequate local content challenges on all channels, low uptake of STBs due to economic challenges, unfavourable terrain requiring gap fillers in most areas, slow growth of the network in other areas and poor operating standards by some content service providers (CSPs).


Other challenges include delayed rollout affecting implementation of final Apps Store Optimisation (ASO) for the country, a capital intensive process, resulting in slow progress in all areas. “SABA should find ways of enhancing local content production in the region. There should be ways of stopping developed countries from dumping analogue equipment to developing countries,” stressed Mankhambo.


Swaziland was able to successfully switch off analogue transmitters on the 31 December 2016 following a successful migration process. The country is now working on the licensing process for Digital Dividend 1 and 2 spectra to telecommunications service providers for broadband applications and the process is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. 
Challenges for Swaziland include the low uptake of STBs attributed to perceived high prices of the boxes and the lack of attractive content on the DTT platform. The Swazi government has, however, subsidized the price of STBs to citizens. Other challenges include limited content (local content) to fill up the channels that have been made available by the DTT project.


Among SADC Member States, Namibia was the frontrunner in terms of digitalization and offered 70 percent of its population a digital TV signal before the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) deadline of June 2015. South Africa missed the June 2015 transition date but has brought in the participation of the private sector, telecommunication companies and broadcasters to help expedite the implementation rollout. “We are working on an aggressive project plan to expedite rollout,” said Wonder Dlangamandla, chief director of technology in the Department of Communication


He added that they aimed to complete STB rollout by December 2018. A lot of challenges exist for South Africa as the country has a huge land mass and challenging landscape of about 1.2 million square kilometres. There is an uneven population distribution with big concentrations around urban metros with diverse cultural and regional make-up; varying living standards measures (LSMs), varying commercial interests and a tough balancing act.

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