Damilare Afuwape

Tanzania's Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Fenella Mukangara

Tanzania’s Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Fenella Mukangara

Tanzania has generated plenty of buzz in the African television industry-and rightly so. For starting its digital migration process in December 2012 and completing it on 30 April 2015, the East African country succeeded where other countries, including Nigeria, failed.

Back in 2006, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN’s leading agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), set 2015 as the deadline for member countries to switchover from analogue television broadcast to the digital platform.

That deadline expired on 17 June, unmet by many African countries.

Tanzania, however, succeeded.

Digitisation, the latest direction in broadcasting, entails the digitalisation of signal source, broadcasting system, transmission and terminal products.

Among its benefits are the freeing up more communication spectrum space for other uses, considerably better audio-visual quality and creation of job opportunities arising from the vast spectrum space yielded.

Tanzania, with some justification, should be jubilant over its success.

In Beijing, China, venue of the 5th edition of the annual StarTimes-organised African Digital TV Development Seminar, Pang XinXing, President of StarTimes, Tanzania’s digital Migration partners, basked in the euphoria of Tanzania’s success and recommended its model to Nigeria. “Nigeria can leverage on the support that StarTimes provides for Africa. StarTimes is aimed at ensuring that every household in Nigeria can access digital TV, afford digital TV, watch digital TV and enjoy digital TV,” he said.

Tanzania’s Minister of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Fenella Mukangara, also gushed. “We merged with StarTimes so it was very possible to have a company which was dedicated specifically for that purpose and funding obtained through StarTimes and they managed to sort everything out. Otherwise, it was not a very easy task,” she said.

Tanzanians are reported to have purchased an estimated one million STBs, the device needed to access digital signals.

However, Tanzanians’ joy at digital migration may evaporate within a few years when they discover that they have to do it all over again, including purchasing new set-top boxes. The country migrated on T1 network, a first generation technology. This implies that the country may, again, need to migrate to T2 network, a product of second generation technology which is considerably more spectrum efficient, the main reason for digital migration in the first place.

Satellite Dish

‎As it is, Tanzania and other countries which migrate on T1 technology will not maximize the dividends of digitisation. ‎The essence of digital migration is to free up spectrum currently used for television for use in other areas particularly for mobile telephone networks like GSM. With T1 technology however, only minimal spectrum is freed up unlike T2, which uses much less spectrum for television and frees more spectrum for government to sell to telephone and internet operators.

Migration a la Tanzania will also certainly come at a cost to those who have acquired T1 set-top boxes, which is outmoded.

StarTimes angered the Kenyan and Ugandan public with its continued importation of T1 decoders. Three years ago, the Ugandan Consumers’ Protection Awareness Association called the attention of the country’s authorities to the fact that the Chinese company, in flagrant indifference to the country’s goal of digital migration, kept importing T1 decoders and accused StarTimes of turning the country into a dump for decoders no longer needed in China. Same thing happened in Nigeria where despite the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission’s directive, StarTimes initially deployed T1 boxes before it was pressured into changing to change to T2. As I write, many Startimes subscribers in Nigeria are still using old T1 boxes.

With StarTimes President’s offer to help Nigeria, using the model it used in Tanzania, Nigeria may be the next destination of outmoded technology dressed up in the garb of a modern one. In the event of this, Nigerians may end up paying twice for set-up boxes and fattening the bank accounts of Chinese manufacturers. StarTimes, which already has a partnership with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) via the NTA/StarTV Network that began in 2010, appears to be in a position to do as it wishes. The Digital Implementation Team established by the Federal Government has recommended NTA as the country’s signal distributor when the digitisation process is eventually completed.

This will make NTA the custodian of all distribution frequencies in the country. If NTA is ratified as the signal distributor, the implication is that all operators will depend on the National Broadcasting Commission for licensing and the NTA for frequencies. This, in turn, would mean that StarTimes’ partnership with NTA (the latter has no technical role in the migration process) has effectively handed over a matter as sensitive as broadcasting to a foreign a company. And with NTA as sole public signal distributor, it will have unrestrained control over operators.

The NTA is the junior partner in its partnership with StarTimes. While the terms of the partnership agreement allow the parties involved to provide part-pay-TV and part Free-to-Air (FTA) services, NTA/StarTimes only provides pay-TV services. At the expiry of subscription, a subscriber has no access to FTA channels, a clear breach of the agreement.

Afuwape, an engineer, lives in Abeokuta