Switching Off Analogue TV Will Lock Out Many In Africa

Written by Soumaila Diarra

The ban of importing and selling non-digital TV sets has been regularly announced on Malian national television. Analysts say unprepared analogue terrestrial television transitions may fail to reach its goals in Africa.

However, the end of analogue signals in television broadcasting and the shift to digital signal and replacing it by the broadcasting in digital signal form is said to offer many advantages.

Mali looks to switch to digital television by 2015, but the process is a concern to many Malians like 24 year-old Fatoumata Kone, who wonders if this means the end of possessing a TV set at home.

“I don’t understand all about this issue, though private radios and the national television sometimes say people will have to buy new TV sets and other materials if they want to get access to television,” she told AFKInsider.

As of July 1, Malian merchants have not been allowed to import or sell non-digital TV devices in application of the West African country’s policy to meet the deadline of June 17, 2015.

Since 2000, the migration process from analogue to digital television has been going on in Africa. The deadline to switch-off the analog broadcasting service in Africa by June 2015 has been set by the Regional Radio Communication Conference held in Geneva in 2006.

This is a challenge to most of African countries, as the governments committed to run the reform without taking measures to help the population who is struggling to find food.

“This new television is not done for poor people like us”, Kone said. “We don’t even have enough money for housing and food”.

The digital Rush in Africa

In the universe of international telecommunication, Africa belongs to the region 1 that is supposed switch to Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band in 2015, with the exception of some developing countries for which the transition period will end on 2020 in Very High Frequency (VHF) band.

The Malian minister of Digital Economy, Mahamadou Camara said Mali need to succeed to promote the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting, which is in progress in the West African region.

African ministers in charge of Communication and Information Technologies officially engaged in the Abuja Declaration in 2010, launching a project to promote the digital transition process.

The first phase of this project is focusing on the status assessment of member States and awareness creation. Then the project have to deal with supporting member African countries on how to accelerate the digital transition, producing policy framework through a harmonized use of the digital dividend portion of the spectrum at the continent.

African officials present the digital television as an opportunity having the potential to contribute to the socioeconomic development of the continent, provided that related political and technical decisions are taken timely in a harmonized and coordinated manner in all the countries.

Most of African governments are reluctant to liberalize the creation of new televisions, but switching off analogue television may introduce a change in this policy. According to AU officials, one of the advantages of digital television is the offer of program channels and the opportunity to produce attractive local content.

Homes losing TV reception

In Mali as well as in many other African countries, governments take no measure to deal with negative aspects of switching to digital television. A digital TV set-top box costs around $50 and a digital TV set costs around $300.

Meanwhile, specialists say African countries including South Africa and Nigeria need to accept that the 2015 deadline to switch off analogue television signal.

According to Digital TV Europe, governments and regulator in the continent must shift their aim of getting the transition process completed as quickly as possible.

The problem is that forced process proved counter-productive in some countries, leading to many homes losing TV reception, advertisers moving away from television and a decline to revenues at affected channels.

One example stated by Digital TV Europe is Tanzania, where thousands of homes are reported to lose their ability to watch TV and advertising revenue suffered as a result.

On July 23, a new digital TV platform has been launched for West Africa in Nigeria, being the country’s first Free-to-air (FTA) digital TV platform, an independent and neutral TV platform.

It will provide the opportunity for broadcasters to reach millions of satellite homes in West Africa, especially those pointing their dishes to 28.2 degrees East.

The platform could be used to quicken the pace of digital migration beyond providing additional growth opportunities for local and international broadcasters, according to SES, the satellite operator that launched the platform.

The company provides satellite communications services to broadcasters, content and internet service providers, mobile and fixed network operators and business and governmental organizations worldwide.

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