Digital migration and access to information

The Southern African experience


Analogue terrestrial broadcasting has existed since the 1940s but was rendered obsolete by technological advances. Its demise was further exacerbated by its inefficient use of the frequency spectrum, which is a limited resource.

For instance, Analogue Terrestrial Television uses one frequency to carry one programme channel, while Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) can use one frequency to carry multiple programme channels. This effectively means that DTT allows the transmission of many television programmes using one frequency channel at a lower cost.

Digital Broadcasting Migration is generally a process in which broadcasting services offered on traditional analogue technology are replaced with digital networks over a specific period. Digital Migration is the transition or switch from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting.

For the average viewer, this process involves the installation of a digital decoder that converts analogue signals to digital using set top boxes (STB). These signals can then be viewed on a conventional television set.

Having taken cognisance of the limitations of analogue broadcasting, especially in a world with ever-growing sophisticated technologies, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a United Nations agency, initially set 17 June 2015 as the deadline for migration to digital, allowing some countries an additional five-year extension.

The motivation given was the requirement to free up bandwidth and release it for, amongst others, an expanded 5G cell phone network.

Almost all of Europe and other developed countries successfully migrated to digital as far back as 2004. Africa still lags behind.

Almost all Southern African countries, except Mauritius and Tanzania, failed to meet this deadline. This was in sharp contrast to the performance of most European and developed countries, which managed to fully migrate Digital Terrestrial Migration before the June 2015 deadline.

This was despite the ambitious decision in 2009 by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), that the Southern African region should migrate to digital broadcasting by 31 December 2013, two years before the ITU switch deadline. The milestones of the envisaged smooth transition were encapsulated in The SADC Roadmap for Digital Broadcasting Migration.

This SADC initiative was lauded as a step in the right direction in providing greater access to information and the means to produce and disseminate such information. Indeed, in 2013, François Rancy, then Director of the ITU Radio-communication Bureau, boasted that “Africa, to date, is the only region to have completed frequency coordination discussions for the deployment of digital terrestrial television.

Therefore, it can safely be said that there is a collective political will for digital broadcasting migration in Southern Africa. In fact, the regional body has had annual meetings since 2009, to assess the status of digital migration and to troubleshoot.

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Digital migration and access to information

Appolus, Norah

Digital migration and access to information

The Southern African experience
Windhoek, 2022

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