South Africa is unlikely to meet its November 2011 digital broadcasting deadline, unless the government received more assistance from industry participants, a top official said on Thursday.
Speaking at a summit on set-top box manufacturing, Deputy Minister of Communications, Dina Pule, said that the country had already missed its 50% digital broadcasting coverage target for the end of this financial year, and was currently only covering around 33%.
As such, she said, South Africa was unlikely to make its 80% coverage target for 2010, and its 100% coverage target for 2011, if it did not receive assistance from industry participants.
South Africa switched on the digital signal on October 30, last year, starting a dual-illumination period during which both the analogue and digital signals are broadcast simultaneously.
Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda noted that to achieve the analogue switch-off date deadline of November 1, 2011, the government and industry had to collectively face the challenges posed by the migration process.
Nyanda also called on industry to assist government in awareness campaigns, aimed at informing the public on how the new era of broadcasting would affect their lives.
"We of course, collectively again, have a responsibility of ensuring that as we move the country to a brand new world of broadcasting, we take along the entire population with us. It would be counter-productive for us, the role players, to bring into the country all these modern, state-of-the-art technologies, but fail to prepare the nation."
Pule noted that despite the delay in consumer coverage, progress around the implementation of the digital migration had been made. Since the switch on of the digital signal in 2008, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), M-net and E-tv have all run pilot projects in digital format.
Further, Cabinet has approved that five-million poor television household be subsidised on their set-top boxes, and an amount of R400-million had been set aside for this purpose.
The South African Bureau of Standards was also at the "final stages" of gazetting a standard for these boxes, she said.
"The set-top boxes for free-to-air services will have standardised operating systems prioritising security features, interoperability, addressability, and inter-connectability. In addition to facilitating e-government, these features enable disconnection of stolen boxes and reduce the possibility of an influx of boxes not manufactured or approved in South Africa, from flooding the market," she added.
Nyanda added that the process of migrating from analogue to digital also presented economic and employment opportunities, and the digital decoder manufacturing strategy, which was currently being discussed at the summit, would form the cornerstone for sustainable growth in the sector.
He said that he hoped the strategy would also introduce new players which had been struggling to make a break-through into the market.
"This process will stimulate the growth of the economy in line with the objectives set by the National Industrial Policy."
"My wish is to see the migration process playing a critical role in skills development, job creation and the transformation of the information and communication technology industry. The process must serve as a catalyst in efforts to meet our objectives to skill the youth and women of our country, and prepare them as agents of change in their communities, particularly those in the rural areas and with limited exposure to opportunities."