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South Africa: The digital migration process – ‘final’ analogue switch-off date remains uncertain

14 April 2023
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On 9 December 2022, the erstwhile Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (Minister), Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, gave notice of the intention to declare 31 March 2023 as the date for final switch-off of the analogue signal in South Africa. This notice – referred to as a ‘consultation on [the] date’ for analogue switch-off, which requested written submissions from the public – can be accessed here.

However, the proposed 31 March 2023 deadline for the final switch-off of the analogue signal in South Africa was not achieved.  Instead, at a meeting on 29 March 2023, Cabinet was provided with an update on South Africa’s broadcasting digital migration (BDM) programme and ‘granted concurrence’ for the current Minister, Minister Mondli Gungubele, to determine and publish the analogue switch-off date for South Africa in the Government Gazette.  It has also recently been reported that the Minister will be continuing to conduct public consultations (during April 2023) before determining a new analogue switch-off date.

While this process aligns with South Africa’s BDM Policy – which provides that the date for analogue switch-off must be determined by the Minister, after engaging with Cabinet and relevant stakeholders, and after assessing the extent of take up by audiences of the necessary equipment to facilitate universal access to broadcasting services – it does mean that the ‘final’ analogue switch-off date remains uncertain.

Analogue switch-off will complete South Africa’s BDM and bring the dual illumination period – the period of time during which both analogue and digital broadcasting signals are transmitted simultaneously – to an end.

BDM is the process in which the broadcasting of television and radio services is moved from analogue to digital platforms. The primary objective of BDM is to free up and enable more efficient use of valuable radio frequency spectrum, which will in turn enable telecommunications network operators to ensure better deployment of 4G and 5G networks. This will assist with bridging the ‘digital divide’, with mobile operators providing faster and more widespread high speed data services.

BDM will also enable lower broadcasting costs, better picture and sound quality, and the ability to offer more channels and interactive services, although it does require viewers to have compatible set-top boxes (STBs) or to migrate to other platforms.

A high-level overview of South Africa’ lengthy BDM process is set out below (with a focus on more recent events):

Date

Milestone

8 September 2008

BDM Policy published

1 November 2008

Digital television switch-on and start of the dual-illumination period

11 November 2011

Intended analogue switch-off date (Minister Matsepe-Casurri) – MISSED

7 February 2012

BDM Policy amended; analogue switch-off date shifted to 17 June 2015

14 December 2012

BDM Policy amended; analogue switch-off date to be determined by the relevant Minister

30 April 2013

Potential analogue switch-off date (ICASA) – MISSED

31 December 2013

New analogue switch-off date (Minister Padayachie) – MISSED

17 June 2015

International Telecommunication Union deadline for analogue switch-off – MISSED

1 February 2016

Minister announces the start of the dual illumination period

31 December 2018

New analogue switch-off date (Minister Muthambi) – MISSED

31 June 2019

New analogue switch-off date (Minister Kubayi-Ngubane) – MISSED

31 July 2020

New analogue switch-off date (Minister Mokonyane) – MISSED

February 2021

President announces in his State of the Nation that analogue switch-off will be at the end of March 2022

5 October 2021

Minister makes final call for registration for STBs, with a deadline of 31 October 2021 (Minister Ntshavheni)

13 October 2021

e.tv launches proceedings against the Minister, seeking additional consultation on the BDM process

28 February 2022

Minister determines that the analogue switch-off date will be 31 March 2022 (Minister Ntshavheni)

27 March 2022

High Court dismisses e.tv’s application and delays the analogue switch-off date to 30 June 2022. E.tv appeals this decision to the Constitutional Court

31 March 2022

Intended analogue switch-off date (Minister Ntshavheni) – DELAYED

28 June 2022

Constitutional Court holds that analogue switch-off must be delayed to allow for consultation

30 June 2022

Intended analogue switch-off date (Minister Ntshavheni) – DELAYED

8 July 2022

New deadline for registration for STBs set as 30 September 2022

9 December 2022

Minister Ntshavheni gives notice of intention to declare 31 March 2023 as the date for final analogue switch-off (written submissions to be made by 27 January 2023)

31 March 2023

‘Final’ analogue switch-off date (Minister Ntshavheni) – MISSED

April 2023

Public consultations continuing with a final analogue switch-off date still to be determined (Minister Gungubele)

 

We discussed the BDM process up to 28 September 2022, including an overview of the e.tv litigation, in detail in a previous article (which can be accessed here). In that article, we also discussed the 2022 spectrum auction in which valuable spectrum in the ‘sub-1 GHz band’ (the 700Mhz and 800Mhz bands) was assigned to telecommunications network operators. This spectrum can only be released following the conclusion of the BDM process.

The erstwhile Minister’s notice of the intention to declare 31 March 2023 as the date for the final analogue switch-off in South Africa, and the current Minister’s continued efforts to conduct public consultation in April 2023, should be understood as part of the attempt to comply with the Constitutional Court’s order in the e.tv litigation (which required consultation and adequate notice to the public to make informed decisions on whether to register for a STB).

At this stage, South Africa’s ‘final’ analogue switch-off date remains uncertain. However, given the recent engagement with Cabinet (on 29 March 2023) and the ongoing public consultation (to be completed by the end of April 2023), it seems likely that the new ‘final’ analogue switch-off date will be determined and published by the Minister in the Government Gazette in the coming weeks.