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Nigeria misses yet another digital migration deadline

By Adeyemi Adepetun   |   09 June 2017   |   4:18 am


Nigeria is expected to conclude its migration from analogue to digital broadcasting by June 17, 2017. A process popularly referred to as Digital Switch-Over (DSO), the country had, hitherto, missed two attempts: June 17, 2012 and, principally, June 17, 2015, the date set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for member nations to switch over. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, in this report, examines the country’s readiness for DSO this time around.

Should Nigeria fail to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting come June 17, it will be the third time the country’s attempt at migrating is coming to naught after having failed in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Although there have been assurances from the Federal Government that Nigeria will not miss the deadline this time around, which is just a couple of days away, facts on ground, however, indicate the contrary.

For instance, there are still issues around Set- Top- Box (STB) manufacturing; poor awareness still envelopes the whole process; epileptic power supply in the country remains a major issue. Only few pilot phases have been conducted and concluded and, above all, funding remains the biggest limitation. Funding and lack of political will marred the whole process in 2015.

Indeed, the transition to digital terrestrial television broadcasting is a complex process, requiring the involvement of legislators, regulators, broadcasting companies (content producers, broadcasters and network operators), manufacturers and viewers. This year is critical for Africa to meet the analogue switch-off deadline and by following a pan-African approach to technology, financing and content development – all citizens can be guaranteed enjoyment of a digital life.

Besides, the world-wide digitisation process is being undertaken to free up spectrum for the growth of the information technology industry.

But the huge challenges, which have been accentuated by the lack of political will on the part of African governments, have been a major hindrance in this part of the world.

This, as identified by the Managing Director of Integrated Television Services (ITS), one of the signal distributors licensed for the DSO in Nigeria, Rotimi Salami, makes the whole process tiring, emphasising that funding and adequate infrastructure are very crucial to achieving fully digitised television broadcasting in the country, cum Africa.

Already, with STBs identified as critical components of this transition, 30 million would be needed for the Nigerian market. As such, the Federal Government in its bid to promote local industry and create jobs, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) issued licences to 13 indigenous companies to locally manufacture STBs in Nigeria, which paid N50, 000,000 each for the Licenses.’

Totaling N650 million, 10 million of these STBs were proposed by government white paper to be subsidised for identified poor households all over the country. Already 1.2 million have been subsidized under the first phase, leaving a balance of 8.8 million STBs for subsidy. Overall, 28.8 million STBs are required nation-wide for a successful DSO. So far, industry sources, who spoke to The Guardian, claimed that the status quo has not changed; meaning that shortage of STBs and other limitations may actually stretch date of DSO in Nigeria.

How the DSO journey started
The agreement to switch over was signed at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) conference in Geneva, Switzerland, attended by Nigeria and other countries in 2006.

Popularly known as the GE-06 Agreement, it sets up a frequency plan for digital terrestrial television (DTT) in the bands 174-230MHz (VHF Band111), 470-582MHz (UHF Band IV) and 582-862MHz (UHF Band V). The GE-06 agreement requires member countries of the ITU to complete a transition from analogue to digital transmission by June 17, 2015, in UHF Bands IV/V and in VHF Band 111 by June 17, 2020.

As such, the spectrum of digital broadcasting is currently highly fragmented into relatively narrow bands, scattered over many frequencies and intertwined with digital broadcasting channels. This is a consequence of spectrum planning options adopted by various countries based on traditional use of broadband spectrum.

The Geneva agreement provided flexibility to open up the spectrum for other uses. However, this flexibility is limited under the existing technical conditions and in practice; the current situation is not conducive to the allocation of this spectrum to more efficient alternative uses.

The journey towards the DTT broadcasting, otherwise known as digital migration, started in Nigeria on June 17, 2006, after the country had signed international and regional agreement with ITU to conclude digital migration by June 17, 2012.

In a bid to achieve the 2012 migration date, the Federal Government in 2007, approved the process, in 2008, inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. The committee submitted its recommendations in June 2009, which government, however, kept to itself for three years and did not release the white paper for digital migration, a situation that caused Nigeria to miss out on the June 17, 2012 initial date for migration. Consequently, government was forced to shift migration date to June 17, 2015.

To achieve the new date, the Federal Government, in December 2012, inaugurated a 14-man team tagged Digiteam Nigeria, but the migration process failed again for lack of funding.

$82b digital revenue at stake, as GSMA recommends Kenya’s example
With Nigeria taking the old part of failure and with the transition process threatened, the country, just like a few other sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, may miss their own share of the $82 billion ‘digital dividend’ by 2025, as forecast by the Global System for Mobile Telecommunication Association (GSMA).

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, SSA 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.

While urging Nigeria to take a cue from Kenya, GSMA said the Kenyan government had a powerful vision that the migration would be a vehicle to deliver improved audio-visual content to consumers and that it would also help more efficiently and effectively in the utilization of spectrum, freeing up the Digital Dividend band for mobile.

In an interview with The Guardian, Policy Manager Africa, GSMA, Shola Sanni, said there was need to understand that digital migration is a complex process that requires consideration and implementation of a broad range of issues, ranging from policy to market factors, funding and stakeholder engagement.

Sanni said it is critical for any country undertaking this process to get it right so that the benefits of digital migration can be realised. “That is why the GSMA published the report on Kenya’s digital migration process, which provides useful information and guidance to regulators and policymakers across the continent, which, as in Nigeria, are planning or currently undergoing a similar migration.”

On how government’s support can turn things around for Nigeria, Sanni said it’s more a case of government support underpinning the entire process from end to end.

This should include such things as developing a well-planned roadmap for digital migration with the steps required in the process and clear timelines, seeking and taking into account input from stakeholders. It should ensure there is buy-in across the ecosystem and also addressing consumer-side issues like the need for awareness campaigns and the affordability of STBs.

Efforts of Signal Distributors and STBs manufacturers
Speaking to The Guardian, Head of Digi Team, Edward Amana, explained that if there are no STBs there will be no transition, saying 13 companies have been cleared to assemble/manufacture STBs in Nigeria and quite a number of them have made substantial investments towards the manufacturing process.

According to him, plants have been set up in Abuja, in Calabar, in Lagos, Osogbo and in Ogun State, revealing that there are plans for other plants in Port Harcourt and elsewhere in the country.

He disclosed that there were some initial delays in the uptake because some persons were skeptical about the reality of the transition but since the success of the Pilot in Jos and the subsequent roll out in Abuja, it has become clear that the transition is real and that the demand for STBs is enormous.

The STB manufacturing industry in Nigeria is supposed to enjoy Pioneer Status because it is an innovative concept leading to a lot of employment for young Nigerians and also a platform for a realistic transfer of technology.

Amana said the factories being setup will not close shop on the completion of the transition but will transit from the manufacturing of STBs to Digital Television Receivers as well as other Electronic Devices.

He stressed the fact that funding is a major issue for Signal Distributors at this stage of the transition, saying that virtually all of their equipment has to be imported.

“With the fall of the Naira against the Dollar their financial projections at the time of bidding is no longer up to funding the Network at today’s cost of funds.

Within this period of dual illumination, the Signal Distributors are not getting any returns on their investments because the existing broadcasters on the Digital Network are still transmitting on their Analogue Transmitters so they are not yet paying any Carriage Fee to the Signal Distributors. They have to source funds from the open market. The commercial Banks lending rates are not for long term investments,” Amana disclosed.

He explained further that the only funding from government towards the transition was the authorisation to lease a portion of the Digital Dividend Spectrum in December 2014, which MTN won. “Outside of that, there has been no direct funding from government for the transition.”

NBC plans regional migration, studying other countries
Responding to The Guardian enquiries on readiness of Nigeria to meet the deadline which is just one week away, the Head, Public Affairs, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Mrs. Maimuna Jimada, said the commission’s main focus is the benchmark date of June 17, 2017, which was agreed upon by the countries in the West Africa sub-region for the switchover from analogue to DTT platforms.

According to her, the commission has continued to engage the various stakeholders including legislators, government officials, broadcasters, educational institutions, marketers and suppliers of broadcast equipment, the international communities, among others on the success of the DSO.

She said the NBC is mindful of the importance of the DSO to Nigeria and “that is why we are taking our time studying the experiences of other nations to learn from their processes and procedures. Our DG, Mallam Modibo Kawu, is now in China with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, attending the 7th African Regional Digital Development Seminar in Beijing.

“We do not want to give Nigeria a digital transition experience that will be found wanting. That is why we are doing our best not just to meet time, but to give Nigeria the best DSO. The Nigerian delegation led by the minister will meet with members of the international broadcast community to discuss in a bid to achieve a seamless transition from analogue to digital terrestrial TV in Nigeria.”

She stressed that the NBC is working around the clock to achieve the roll out of the DSO in one state in each of the six-geo political zones as the next phase after Plateau and Abuja.

Jimada listed other states to include Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Osun and Rivers, where work is ongoing for immediate and hitch free roll out by the two signal distributors – ITS and Pinnacle Communications Ltd – in the next phase of the DSO.

Amana, however, accepts that June 2017 is not cast in stone. “We will do the best we can to achieve nationwide digital coverage. If we cannot complete the transition in June we will confer with our neighbours and ensure there is no cross-border interference if any of them is able to complete their transition before us,” he told The Guardian.

Are Nigerians aware and ready for the change?
Investigations by The Guardian showed that Nigeria still has a long way to go, as many of its citizens seem not to be aware of this development.

Except for the few privileged ones, who are already tuned to Pay TV services, including DStv, StarTimes, CONSAT, among others, millions of Nigerians are not ready for this and could be caught unawares.

For Gbenga Adewole, an accountant, he is aware but not optimistic that Nigeria can meet the deadline, saying no awareness about it.

Adewole stressed that there have not been any education, sensitisation and awareness creation as to what the whole process entails. “How can we migrate without proper information? Good, some of us are learned, but what about others not in our category, who must also be migrated. I don’t think we are ready, even in another five years!”

Indeed, an office attendant, who simply gave her name as Nneka, claimed ignorance of the whole process. “Digital migration, I don’t know anything about that,” she stated.

Reports have it that in other African countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, the populace is aware of the entire DSO processes and what it entails not to switch-over.

StarTimes recommends PPP approach
Meanwhile, at the just-concluded, 7th African Regional Digital Development Seminar in Beijing, the President of StarTimes Group, Pan Xinping, while addressing the over 400 delegates, including representatives from 42 African nations, said African countries experiencing challenges in their DSO plan should adopt the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to realise the process before the expiration of the extended dateline of 2020 set by ITU. Xinping said under the PPP model, StarTimes is ready for the self-financing responsibility and provide working capital to achieve full digitization.

“The government of the project country applies for the concessional loans and preferential buyers credit to provide the project construction capital. The loan maturity period is 20 years with a grace period of between five and eight years and interest rate of two per cent,” he stated.

Going forward, the Director-General, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, told The Guardian that Nigeria needed an accredited migration framework, which should address among others, critical infrastructure systems integration, retool the workforce with special focus on skills conversion, create digital content simulation design and local content re-design, documentation and systems security and a future development pilots for research and development.

According to Amana, the major implications of not meeting the deadline are that Nigeria’s analogue transmission must not cause interference to the digital transmissions in neighbouring countries; the country cannot claim protection from interference from digital transmissions from neighbouring countries on our (Nigeria) analogue transmission.

“Until we conclude the transition in Nigeria, the digital dividend accruing from the transition cannot be put to use in Nigeria,” Amana stated.

Job losses trail delayed digitisation
Chief Executive Officer of Digital Interactive Media, Sola Fajobi, has blamed government’s inability to implement the promised digital switchover since 2012 for having negative effects on the broadcast industry.

Mr. Fajobi, producer of popular TV shows such as Next Movie Star, Supermom and Dormitory 8 as well as inspiration for V. Channel and Oodua TV, noted that the recent massive job loss at TVC, closure of DAARSAT and ACTV are direct results of anticipatory investments made, based on the proposed digital switchover, which is yet to materialise five years after it was proposed to take off.

According to him, “The lay off of 145 workforces by TVC might not necessarily be a sign of weakness; it is actually from a sound management decision, which desires that the business survives and repositions.

“The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) announced digitalisation in 2011 and licensed StarTimes, owned by NTA and Chinese counterparts. Government said it would switch to digital broadcasting fully by 2012 and every broadcaster started anticipating and investing. Government then gave similar license to DStv and it formed GOtv. Now, it was a sound business sense for TVC to dream of growing bigger and it applied for license, which it got and started CONSAT. There was also ACTV.

“Nigeria has not switched to digital broadcasting till now; terrestrial still holds sway, which means there is less investment by advertisers on digital channels and lots of TV platform or stations cannot sustain their stations. And so, many folded up.

“Because StarTimes has first mover advantage, it being partly owned by government, it has struggled to survive. Do not forget that the Chinese are bringing terrible content into the country and transcribing it into our local languages, thereby sidelining Nigerian content. More than 18 stations have folded up in StarTimes because it is unsustainable. Advertisers are not ready to give you business because of numbers and rating challenges.

“Also, GOtv is another matter all together. DStv is already the market leader in premium content, and to set up GOtv, all they needed was to put some of their channels on that platform, which they did. Sweet and easy; they can survive and they can make money and they can become the leader in the lower cadre also, which they did become.

“CONSAT, on the other hand, cannot survive. Nigeria needs to switch to digital before it can thrive, but government has been shifting goal posts and CONSAT owners have invested tremendously in it. Remember that content is like air – you acquire, show it and you need to keep acquiring. Now, ACTV died within one year of operations. CONSAT has done three years and there is just no way to continue unless government gets serious. So, best solution is to let go of some people and keep the business. DAARSAT from the owners of AIT/Raypower also suffered a similar fate because of none implementation of digitisation and folded up, with the attendant job losses.”




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