Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Business of Tech

ConCourt rules to delay SA digital migration

Article Image
South Africa's Constitutional Court (ConCourt) has delivered a major blow to the country's planned digital migration, ruling in favor of television broadcaster eTV in a court battle over the official date for the switchover from analogue to digital TV.

The ConCourt judgment on Tuesday upheld eTV's appeal and set aside an earlier ruling by the High Court that had gone largely in favor of Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.

Now the planned June 30 switch-off date will have to be delayed to allow time for more public consultation.

The ConCourt ruled that the minister's decision for the switch-off date of the analogue signal to be March 31, 2022, was unconstitutional and invalid and must be set aside. The court had also ruled that the minister's decision to impose a deadline of October 31, 2021, to register for set-top boxes (STBs) was unconstitutional and that she would have to pay the costs of the applicants, including the costs of two counsels.

In March, the Pretoria High Court had already ruled that the switch-off date must be pushed back from March to June 30, 2022.

This week's ConCourt judgment, handed down by Justice Nonkosi Mhlanta, said that the government process and decisions had "been tainted with irrationality or illegality" and the minister needed more consultation with interested stakeholders before making the decisions.

Digital delays

In 2006, South Africa committed to the International Telecommunication Union's June 2015 deadline for all countries to switch from analogue to digital terrestrial TV. However the process has hit many roadblocks and delays over the years and halfway through 2022 the country has still only partially migrated to digital.

The delay also has major consequences for telecoms operators because TV broadcasters are still using sections of the 800MHz and 700MHz spectrum bands, which are key for operators to roll out mobile broadband services.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has already auctioned off spectrum in these bands to telcos for billions of rands. The new spectrum assignments in these bands – to Vodacom, MTN, Rain and Telkom – are due to kick in on July 1, 2022.

After the analogue switch-off date, broadcasters will not be able to transmit in the spectrum originally assigned to analogue, which was auctioned off by ICASA, and broadcasters will have to turn off their transmitters.

STB saga

Modern television sets have a built-in digital tuner that allows them to receive digital transmissions, but old analogue TVs will need an STB to receive digital transmissions.

South Africa's government has promised to provide the country's poorest households with free STBs. Households with an income of R3,500 (US$217) per month or less qualified and had to apply for an STB at their nearest post office.

In October 2021, eTV launched its original urgent application in the High Court on the basis that the analogue switch-off would permanently prevent millions of people – who had not migrated to digital TV and who didn't own an STB – from receiving free-to-air TV signals on their analogue television sets.

"The Court also has an obligation to safeguard the interests of more than two million indigent households which have been impacted by the registration process and will undoubtedly be affected by the analogue switch-off," the ConCourt ruling reads.

The judgment said that the process leading up to the October 31, 2021 deadline for people to apply for STBs "did not provide adequate opportunity for affected households to register and, as a result, the process is tainted with procedural irrationality."

According to the ConCourt judgment, the South African Broadcasting Corporation Limited (SABC) has already switched off some of its analogue transmitters and has migrated to digital. M-Net has switched off 84 transmitters and migrated but eTV – which is SA's biggest independent free-to-air television broadcaster – has switched off only four of 95 transmitters and is still broadcasting in analogue.

When the new switch-off date will be is still unclear, but the judge did emphasize the need for the process to not be further delayed.

"All parties agree that there is a need for South Africa to migrate to digital and for the analogue switch-off to imminently take place. Analogue switch-off is an urgent, and unfortunately much delayed, national priority," the judge said. "Therefore, once adequate notice is given to the public to make informed decisions on whether to register for an STB, digital migration should proceed without further delay."

Related posts:

*Top image source: Lawsuit photo created by jcomp - www.freepik.com.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub

Story

Hot startup of the month: Pan-African fintech KamaPay

This month's hot startup is pan-African fintech KamaPay, which helps individuals and businesses make cross-border payments on the continent.

Story

Afretec awards $3.3M in grants to African research teams

The African Engineering and Technology Network (Afretec) has awarded grants worth $300,000 each to 11 university research teams across Africa to advance digital technologies.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Flash poll

All polls

Africa Tech Perspectives

Story

Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.

Story

Challenges and opportunities for women's tech careers

A new survey reveals that COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages and a lack of mentorship have negatively affected women's career development over the past two years.

Story

Survey: Opportunities for Women in Tech

Take our new survey for women across Asia, Europe and Africa looking at the biggest challenges and opportunities for women-led enterprises and trends in tech careers for women.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Upcoming events

London Tech Week
June 13-16, 2023
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London SW1P 3EE
Cybertech Africa 2023
August 1-2, 2023
Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda
Africa Tech Festival, Home of AfricaCom and AfricaTech
November 13-16, 2023
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Guest Perspectives

Story

Omdia View: February 2023

By Omdia Analysts

In February 2023 key events in the Middle East and Africa included a major Internet project for Africa's underserved by Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Microsoft as well as a 5G launch in Tanzania – that and more in this month's Omdia View.

Story

Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up


Sign Up