Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: THE TIMES
Nomvula Mokonyane. Picture: THE TIMES

Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane has spelt out the need to accelerate digital migration policy, appointing an executive at signal distribution agency Sentech to manage the analogue switch-off.

Aldred Dreyer will lead the department’s project management office and the entire digital migration project in the country.

SA already lags much of Africa on digital migration and missed the 2015 International Telecommunications Union deadline to switch its signal to digital. This means the union no longer protects SA’s analogue signal and people living in border areas could experience signal interruptions.

The delay in the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting has frustrated many players in the information and communications technology sector who are desperate for additional spectrum. Digital migration is crucial for freeing up broadband spectrum, which will boost connectivity.

The government now hopes to finalise the migration process by the end of the 2019-20 financial year.

'Serious implications'

“As this project continues to be delayed, it has serious implications both for government, industry and our citizens. Having considered all the challenges, a revision to the current delivery model is inevitable if we are to accelerate the country towards the now belated analogue switch-off,” Mokonyane said on Monday.

The minister told journalists that Dreyer’s knowledge in the project was unparalleled as he had recently led a similar project in Namibia with great success.

“Through the support of the department, he will be assembling his own team … they will be engaging the industry. I sincerely hope that the industry will give this team all the support because it is in the interest of all of us, government and industry alike, that this project is completed as soon as practically possible,” said Mokonyane.

She said that in the next few days the department will also be announcing a revised advisory council that will advise her on various issues, including the analogue switch-off plan and strategies to increase the uptake by households of digital terrestrial television.

The council will consist of representatives of the government and industry.

Mokonyane said she had been informed by Sentech that M-Net had successfully migrated to digital and as a result had switched off all its analogue transmitter sites.

“We deem this to be a significant milestone and therefore commendable as it releases high-demand spectrum for mobile broadband services to our people. While duly acknowledging some of these achievements, the reality is that we are way behind schedule.”

She said the migration process required collaboration and partnership with industry and the public as it required the sharing of resources, skills and expertise.

In terms of the broadcasting policy review, Mokonyane said the plan was to submit the white paper for cabinet approval in the fourth quarter of the current financial year.

"Our intentions are to start with the review of public broadcasting …. We have already issued a notice inviting stakeholders to submit issues for consideration on matters pertaining to the [public broadcaster’s] mandate, funding model, including TV licence fees, governance and accountability measures. The issue of an appropriate funding model of the public broadcaster, for instance, has been deferred for too long and we hope this focused discussion on the public broadcaster will finally resolve it."

The due date for public submission on the notice is mid-July 2018.

The minister also said her department was working around the clock with the Treasury to stabilise the financial position of the SABC so that it could meet its financial obligations to its creditors and acquire new content.

She said the appointment of new executives at the SABC would go a long way to stabilising the public broadcaster.

"The board has recently finalised the appointment of the group CEO and the chief financial officer. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate both the new group CEO, Mr Madoda Mxakwe and the chief financial officer, Ms Yolande van Biljon. We wish them well in their responsibilities and are confident that they will invest their skills.

"These appointments follow that of the chief operations officer who was appointed earlier this year. We hope this will go a long way in stabilising leadership and governance at the organisation."