Stormy digital migration voyage; Will Africa beat the June 2015 deadline

Though as a bloc, the five-member countries of the East African Community, had settled on a December 2012 deadline which they all failed to beat, Kenya, despite a few setbacks, is on track to beat its own December 13, 2013 analogue switch off date for Nairobi and its environs. The coastal region, and western parts of the country will be switched off at the end of March 2014 while all other regions will migrate by end of June 2014.

The tax exemption is among a raft of policy measures aimed at making the devices affordable. It will see the cost of set top boxes – which retail at between KShs 3,000 and KShs10,000 (UGX 90,000 and UGX 300,000) – fall by 25% in what is expected to boost their uptake as the country races to meet a regional deadline for switch-over to digital broadcasting next year.

Public awareness is still a key hurdle.

Questions were raised as to who should be responsible for and bear the costs of educating the public – the government (regulator), the broadcasters or the signal distributor? In developed countries, most households now have modern digital TV sets, which don’t require a set-top box, but how do you make the elusive set-top-box (STB) affordable to impoverished people some of whom cannot even afford a second-hand 14-inch monologue TV set?

Because of that, some countries have settled on allowing the digital and monologue systems to run concurrently, and more so because many companies are not agreeable to allowing people to access free-to air channels on their decoders even if they have not paid subscription.

They argue that they make their money from subscriptions, so if people can still access their services without paying, they would not get a return on investment. The government argues that it has done enough by exempting decoders from taxes, which has slashed the price of a decoder to a minimum of Shs 86,000, but this is still beyond the reach of most viewers. The experts said African countries – still lagging way behind – have to find ways of learning from best practices from those who have gone on ahead of them.

These include ensuring that public broadcasting is and remains a ‘public good’ and ensuring that consumers are protected. A key concern at the conference was that digital migration in developing countries is being looked more of as a technological project and less of a ‘social issue.’ In the UK for instance, some 7 million vulnerable households were offered financial support, free installation and 12 months free service.  See more

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