“Migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television is on track”, the minister of communications and digital technology said at a media briefing on 24 November 2021.
Minister Khumbudo Ntshavheni said that a total of 572 255 beneficiary households which qualified for subsidised set-top boxes have been migrated from the current total of 1 228 879.
In 2006, the South African government accepted the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreement that called for countries to migrate from analogue to digital television by June 2015.The purpose of the mandate known as the digital terrestrial television (DTT) process was to improve the quality of TV services and maximise the efficient use of the spectrum. The South African government initially set the deadline to complete the migration process by 2011, however, this never happened as the programme suffered setback after setback.
During the 2021 State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The completion of digital migration is vital to our ability to effectively harness the enormous opportunities presented by technological change.” He said something similar in the previous two State of the Nation addresses but it required two new ministers to make it happen.
To realise the target in the pronouncement to switch off analogue television transmitters by the end of March 2022 after years of delays and missed targets, the department has announced a cabinet-approved revised plan to accelerate digital migration.
The revised plan is a shift from a staggered provincial approach to a consolidated national approach with switch-offs happening simultaneously in all nine provinces of South Africa, with different completion and migration dates.
Analogue TV switch-off began in 2016 in the Northern Cape where 15 transmitters were switched off in the area of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in compliance with the radio-quiet restrictions of the international radio telescope research project.
On Friday 26 November 2021, the Minister will officially switch off the last transmitter in the Northern Cape at Upington to mark the successful digital migration of the province, which is the second one after the switch-off of the Free State in October 2021.
At a media briefing the minister explained that the broadcast digital migration falls within the broader digital transformation objectives of creating new possibilities and laying a foundation for new innovative products as the world, including South Africa, shifts into digital economies. “As a department responsible for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, we are required to spearhead the transformation of not only the sector but the entire South African economy for the digital future. The broadcast digital migration allows the country to access the digital dividend as part of our journey towards a digital economy”.
The big question however is, will it take another turn in court? eTV, the company that has interdicted the digital migration process many times in the past, is now saying that a total switch off in March 2022 is unrealistic.