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Non-release of N60 billion budget hampers Nigeria’s digital switchover plan


Digital switchoverBarring any last minute miracles, Nigeria is bound to miss the June 17, 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) for a global switchover of television signals from analogue to digital transmission.

This is because the Federal Government of Nigeria has not released the N60 billion, long earmarked as the cost of the Digital Switchover (DSO) process in the country.

The N60 billion budgets, it would be recalled, was approved back in 2007 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. The rest of the world is switching to digital TV, especially as analogue transmission has become costly to run owing to outdated and obsolete technology. Besides, DSO is a seen as good economic decision as Nigeria can make better use of the airwaves. Frequencies currently used for analogue TV will become available for next generation mobile and telecommunication services, which will improve productivity.

What this means is that, if nothing is done within the next 41 days, individuals and companies that have made huge investments in preparation for the switchver would have their capital either eroding or lying idle until government facilitates effort for Nigeria to join the rest of the world in the digital broadcasting space.

Investigations revealed that since the DSO process began in 2006 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration through to former President Umaru Y’ardua, and the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has not received any funding to implement its programmes.

In an earlier interview with The Guardian, the Director-General of NBC, Emeka Mba, who mentioned that funding has been a major challenge for the project, had however, said that efforts were been put together to ensure Nigeria did not miss the deadline.

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.”

Meanwhile, in order to fill the gap created by paucity of funds, it was learnt that NBC even proposed an advance payment from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for the frequencies NBC would eventually be releasing to the telecommunications sector, an idea that had been accepted, but not actualized for some reasons beyond NBC’s control.

On its part, NBC, investigations revealed, has concluded all necessary plans to ensure a seamless digital terrestrial television (DTT) transition and analogue switch-off (ASO) for Nigeria. In this regard, NBC recently reinvigorated the DSO team through the expansion of industry participation to include the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria (BON), broadcast signal distributors (BSDs), set-top-box (STB) manufacturers and a broad range of other stakeholders.

The commission had also concluded work on the common national set-up-box and conditional access (CA) platform to enable universal electronic programme guide (EPG) middleware for all DTT devices in Nigeria. The national CA system not only secures the investment of the local STB manufacturers, it also ensures that indigenous software developers can author programmes or applications which can be deployed on the new DTT ecosystem. The National CA system can also be used to monitor and regulate broadcast signals from all television stations across the country.

The implications of the deadline miss is not far-fetched as the frequencies expected to be freed to deepen Internet broadband access in the country would be delayed until whenever the country achieves its cut-over to digital platform.

According to the Managing Director of Innovectives Limited, Emmanuel Agha, an e-payment service provider, “the major benefit of the transition to digital broadcasting is that it frees up the analogue bandwidth for assigning spectrum for broadband throughout Nigeria. This will be a great economic boost to service providers with Internet products and services to sell and for e-Government services to be delivered to even the most remote areas of the country,”

Similarly, it would be impossible for the commission to issue new TV and radio licenses in places like Lagos and Abuja because analogue platform restricts does not allow for multi-layering.

However, investigations also showed that, two weeks ago, the commission formally restarted the licensing of free-to-air, free-to-view digital TV channels via the Expression of Interest (EoI) for interested channels and content producers on national, regional and city based on territories that will be on the largest free-to-air digital television platform in the world servicing the over 23million TV households in Nigeria under a common national EPG set top platform.

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