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‘78% of Nigerians may miss out in digital TV switchover’

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• Country to lose in $82b dividend revenue forecast
• Ghana leads ECOWAS in preparedness
• No govt funding, says DigiTeam

SEVENTY-EIGHT per cent of Nigeria’s television household population of 20 million homes may miss out of the June 17 analogue-to-digital switchover deadline, due to shoddy preparations, lack of funds, poor coordination and inconsistency in actions, among others.

Besides, should the transition process eventually flop, Nigeria, just like a few other sub-Saharan African countries, may miss its own share of the $82 billion ‘digital dividend’ by 2025, as forecast by the Global System for Mobile Telecommunication Association (GSMA).
Failure to transit could also cause digital signal interference with border countries and, therefore, disrupt viewing in Nigeria.

Indeed, in accordance with guidelines established in 2006 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) — of which Nigeria is a member — broadcast stations are expected to complete the switch from analogue to digital platforms by June 17, 2015.

Successful switchover will ensure broadcast stations transmit on the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) radio platform in the range of 300 to 3,000 MHz.

Though, Nigeria is not alone in this challenge, staring at a blank TV screen may become a reality for most Nigerians, and many other African TV viewers, as they could face the same fate in about 106 days from now.

After the deadline, satellite dishes and antennas will receive their signals via a different technology. Theoretically, it will be possible to receive many more channels and enjoy improved image quality.

Apart from Nigeria and South Africa, Kenya is one of the largest television markets in Africa and going by investigations, the three countries, like some others appeared not ready for the switch.

Investigations revealed that, in the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) region, Ghana is far ahead of others and may as well meet with the deadline.

Before his recent exit as ITU Secretary-General, Hamadoun Toure, had ruled out the possibility of extension of the June 17 date, stressing that it was sacrosanct.

The Guardian gathered that the country currently has a digital television penetration of 22 per cent of the total Nigerian television household, thereby exposing the remaining 78 per cent viewers to danger of blackout.

The 22 per cent penetration might be coming from the services of pay television stations like the DStv (which plans to hike its tariff by April 1), GoTv, Startimes, StarSat, ACTv, among others.

Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Emeka Mba, had, in last quarter, disclosed that the country would need about N60 billion for the project to scale through, with a projection that the Federal Government would provide substantial part of the funds, while the remaining would be independently sourced by the commission, including revenue from spectrum allocations, otherwise known as digital dividend.

But three months to the deadline, the NBC appeared to be financially handicapped to prosecute the project, while it continued to assure that Nigeria would not miss the deadline date.

Responding to The Guardian enquiries on the level of Nigeria’s preparedness to switchover, Mba, an engineer, emphasized that the country is already going digital and that the transition is on-going at the moment.

According to him, “we have currently a digital television penetration of around 22 per cent of the total Nigerian TV household.  The major outstanding task is ensuring that the remaining 78 per cent of our TV household population of about 20 million homes will have set top boxes for Free to Air television reception before June 17th, analogue switch off deadline.

“We continue to work with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and other interested stakeholders to ensure that our preparations in terms of content offering, and the digital broadcast infrastructure is in place.  As we get closer to the June deadline the commission shall evaluate the current situation and advice government accordingly.”

From Mba’s body language, it is evident that the federal government may have jettisoned funding the switchover, and subsequently diverted the funds to other things they considered very important, especially the on-going political campaigns. This has subsequently prompted the NBC to look at other means of raising the estimated funds.
The NBC DG claimed that government revenues have been heavily impacted by the downward slide in oil revenue, stressing that this has prompted the commission with the approval of the Minister of Information to explore other creative ways to fund the digital switch over.

According to him, the commission is still engaged in high-level discussions with several local and international institutions as regards funding of the digital switch over, especially with regards to the Set top box rebate and distribution, as well as the roll out of infrastructure among others.

“Progress is being made, as soon the agreements are concluded the commission shall make this public”, he stated.

With countries in raise to beat the deadline, Mba denounced insinuations that the whole idea of migrating was actually imposed by the USA.

He explained that the entire process is in itself inevitable given developments in digital technology, which makes compression of signals widespread. He added that the idea of a deadline for the analogue switch off is a decision of the ITU, which Nigeria is a signatory to.

According to him, digital television broadcasting brings tremendous benefits not only to broadcasting but also to the larger economy as it also helps bridge the digital divide improving access to information and social inclusion.

As such, the need for the transition is to improve overall audio and visual quality and is also a means of allowing for more channels and viewing options.

This is because digital television uses up spectrum far more efficiently than analogue transmission. In this regard, the execution of countries digital terrestrial TV (DTT) migration strategy is expected to free up excess spectrum that will then be reallocated to telecommunications operator, an outcome that is known as a digital dividend.

According to the GSMA, if the transition is properly and timely executed, it anticipated that the sale of analogue frequencies no longer used by broadcasters could bring the government over $2 billion.

Additionally, GSMA research indicated that through the release of digital dividend spectrum, sub-Saharan Africa stands to increase its yearly regional GDP by $82 billion by 2025, while in the process earning $18 billion in incremental tax revenues and creates 27 million jobs.

Information gathered by The Guardian further showed that while digital dividend spectrum can be viewed as a big ticket item that could ultimately facilitate broadband roll-out of Long Term Evolution networks, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the NBC are also exploring opportunities for using TV ‘whitespaces’, or the vacant and unused frequencies that can be made available at locations where spectrum is not being used for licensed services, to help achieve last mile connectivity in rural areas.

On this, the NBC DG stressed that the digital dividend spectrum as a collateral is one of such options, which is being considered for fund raising to support execution of the project.

A source in the Ministry of Communications Technology told The Guardian that part of the broadband spectrum expected to be release by NBC to the National Frequency Management Commission (NFMC), where it hoped to get some funding, include the digital dividend spectrum for the 700 MHz, which is expected to create mass diffusion for broadband telecommunications services in the unserved and underserved areas.

A member of the DigiTeam, a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC), set up by the NBC to drive the transition process told The Guardian that if Nigeria failed to meet up with the date, government should be held responsible.

According to him, government bureaucracy has hindered the entire process. He informed The Guardian that the country has come up with new strategies that will prevent digital interference, especially from border towns.

He disclosed that government is planning to digitize all television-broadcasting stations in Nigerian Border States that transmit signals to border countries.

The states, according to him, include Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Lagos, Bayelsa, Kwara, Kebbi, Sokoto, among others. He stressed that these states will be digitized before the deadline to ensure that their transmitting signals does not cause inter-border interference of signals.

The NBC DG confirmed the plan in this regard, saying, “Nigeria remains focused on meeting the deadline, and in cooperation with our neighbouring countries to ensure that there are no harmful signal interference either from Nigeria or into our country come June 17th, 2015.”

On why the two ministries of Information and Communications Technology are not working together to fast track the process, possibly signaling a frosty relationship between them, Mba denied any disagreement between the two.

“This is not true. Both ministries are working very well together to ensure that Nigeria successfully transits to digital”, he stated.

The NBC had ruled out extension of digital switch over, stressing that the first phase of the plan started in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Kano January 1, 2015.

Speaking to The Guardian, Chairman of DigiTeam, Edward Amana, said in spite of obvious challenges, the commission will go ahead to switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Amana said all the groundwork and technical specifications necessary for the transition has since been concluded. He said the major obstacle to the implementation is funding, stressing that lots of work still need to be done that require funding, “which we are yet to get from government.”

According to him, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries are in various stages of preparedness. As at now, he disclosed that Ghana is far ahead in West Africa.

“As soon as the ECOWAS Common Specifications was harmonized they commenced immediate implementation. As at today most of the major cities in Ghana have switched over to digital. They are sure to meet the June 17 deadline.

“A number of the Francophone countries are being assisted by France and hopefully will achieve the June 17 deadline. The other Anglophone countries are in various stages of implementation and most are striving towards meeting the deadline”, Amana stated.

Speaking on activities from Nigeria, the Chairman of the DigiTeam said the country has successfully conducted the Jos / Plateau State pilot.

According to him, as at today a Digital Terrestrial Television Network, covering the whole of Plateau State is on ground, stressing that as soon as there are enough Set Top Boxes on ground, Plateau State will switch over to full Digital Television Broadcasting.

Amana disclosed that since the process began, government has not supported it with any funding.

“We are yet to get any funding from the Federal Government towards the transition”, he stated.
Speaking on the implication should Nigeria misses the June deadline, Amana said the implication is that analogue television from Nigeria must not cause any interference to the digital television transmission in any of the neighbouring countries.

Furthermore, he said Nigeria cannot claim any protection from the digital television transmission from the neighbouring countries to the analogue broadcasting in Nigeria.

“This apart, the digital dividend resulting from the switching off all analogue transmitters cannot be effectively utilized in Nigeria. The Switch-off of analogue transmitters should release a total of 168 MHz. of premium spectrum that can be deployed for mobile broadband”, Amana stated.

Speaking at the weekend in Lagos, the Director, Spectrum Administration at the NCC, Austine Nwaulune, said June 17 deadline is sacrosanct, not a Nigerian thing but global, stressing that any analogue station in Nigeria that failed to migrate on the due date will not be protected by the ITU, “and if Nigeria causes interference, it will be sanctioned.”



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