Nam, Zim tackle digitalisation

 

Speaking to The Southern Times this week, NBC’s Commercial Manager: DTT Commercial Services, Ockert Jansen, said that the national broadcaster has already converted the 67 percent current analogue base to digital and added that it was now in the process of preparing to switch off its Rössing Towers in the Erongo Region on March 29, 2015.

This means that residents at the major towns on the west coast, namely Walvis Bay, Henties Bay, Swakopmund and Arandis would not be able to watch television through analogue transmission after 20h00 on March 29, if they do not purchase a set-up box known as the digital terrestrial television (DTT) decoder to receive the digital signal.

According to Jansen, the first national switch over at the end of January, which saw the capital city Windhoek and nearby central towns, such as Rehoboth and Okahandja move from analogue to digital, was overwhelmingly successful because of the way people responded.

He said that other towns in the Erongo Region including Karibib, Usakos, Omaruru and nearby villages, would not be affected by the digital migration as the Erongo Tower which covers those areas would not switch off its analogue signals.

“We have done our planning, ran campaigns with a 14-day countdown. We know we will be successful,” he said, adding that they have conducted a theoretical study using the “diffusion of innovation” theory by Everett Rodgers that seeks to explain how and at what rate new ideas and technology are adopted in a particular culture, taking into account that there are early adaptors and late adaptors to new innovations.

Jansen explained that some people first want to see something happen and once they become aware and hear of the benefits, they do not want to be left in the dark, as seen in the case of the Windhoek analogue switch-off at the end of January, where individuals started storming to the NBC offices a day before the deadline or after.

“Our strategy is to infiltrate the areas by switching on (digital television) in places with highest population density, then we switch on smaller areas,” he noted.

Jansen said that he was however concerned about the delay of Omaheke Region’s digital migration, especially at the eastern town of Gobabis which covers many eastern towns and villages, where the Communications Regulatory Authority (CRAN) apparently refused to grant them frequency, fearing that the signals would interfere with those of Botswana.

“At Gobabis, we have applied for UHF (ultra-high frequency), but CRAN has not granted us the frequency. Our Gobabis transmitter is ready, waiting for CRAN to give the go-ahead,” he remarked, saying that the NBC sent a team to test the transmitters and found that there was no interference, but the regulator is not forthcoming.

At Rundu in the north-eastern part of the country, Jansen said that they noticed signal interference on the site of Angola when they sent their team up there.

“We informed CRAN; it is left in the hands of the regulator to sort that out,” he said, explaining that according to ITU regulations the country that switches to digital first gets the first option and the other country must switch off, as in the case of Angola which is far off target.

Competition

On the issue of competing with other television stations in Namibian, such as the popular pay-tv service-provider, Multichoice Namibia, Jansen said that the NBC was not worried about competition as the switch over to digital terrestrial television is a national project as well as a worldwide mandate.

“Our public service mandate is to inform, educate and entertain – the least of our concerns is competition. We know what the demographics of Namibia are; we know that according to the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) Namibia is one of the countries with the highest genie coefficient. NBC is servicing those people that cannot afford the N$700 per month (pay television),” he reckoned.

Jansen, however, did not rule out the possibility that NBC could introduce pay-television channels in the future, saying that they however had not had elaborate discussions how and when they would go into that.

He said that it was really Multichoice competing with counter-campaigns, seeing NBC as a threat to them when it comes to pay-tv. Jansen further stated that they did not envision more channels being added but more variety content, especially local content in which they are the forerunner to local audiences.

“Television is a close-up media and there is still some form of patriotism. People want to see what is happening in their own country, these are the values of novelty and proximity. Only when they know about their own country do they want to know about things across the borders,” he pointed out, saying that they have been inviting local producers as well to screen local productions.

“Without the viewers, we are nothing. We are focusing on what the viewers want,” he said.

Responding to NBC’s claims regarding digitalisation delay in Gobabis, CRAN’s Acting Chief Executive Officer, Jochen Traut said that the regulatory body issued NBC with Spectrum Use Licences on 19 June 2014, pursuant to the provisions of section 31 of the Communications Act (No.8 of 2009) for coverage of Gobabis, Maltahöhe, Aranos and Ur.

But the NBC was apparently opposed to the deployment of UHF transmitters and claimed that it would be more expensive to install UHF transmitters and favoured UHV transmitters.

“On 1 October 2014, the NBC was accorded an oral hearing by the authority (CRAN). The outcome of the reconsideration was conveyed to the NBC on 15 March 2015, wherein the authority declined the NBC to implement DTT services in Gobabis, Maltahöhe, Aranos and Ur,” said Traut.

According to CRAN, NBC had ample time to adjust their network planning to ensure adherence to regulations for DTT as gazetted and further to that, the broadcaster apparently applied for frequency that had already been issued to Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).

Traut said that if NBC were to be provided with that frequency, it would adversely affect the rights of TBN and other broadcasters, such as One Africa Television and Multichoice.

“CRAN is thus not responsible for any delays that may have been encountered and thus the statement is devoid of any truth,” the regulator pointed out.

About Rundu’s signals interfering with Angola, Traut said that CRAN and INACOM (Angolan regulator) were able to locate the source of interference from Angola, which was caused by the Angolan public broadcaster transmission at Calai.

He said that INACOM subsequently instructed the broadcaster to use frequencies that do not interfere with NBC signals at Rundu and CRAN also visited the area to make sure the matter was resolved.

“The authority has found that the NBC signal in Rundu is extremely weak and therefore the NBC has undertaken to install an antenna directly pointing to Rundu from its site located at Arendsnes to improve the signal,” CRAN added.

Digital broadcasting allows for better picture and sound quality and many more channels can be transmitted per frequency in DTT, while a large number of radio frequency spectrum can be released. Namibia compares with the top two African countries, Mauritius and Tanzania which completed their switch over to DTT.  Ghana was one of the first African countries to successfully migrate from analogue to digital.

Zimbabwe is set to meet the June 17, 2015 broadcasting digitalisation deadline after government secured $200 million through issuance of Datacasting licence to NetOne, the State-owned mobile phone operator, to fund the migration from analogue system to digital.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo told Parliament recently that the new system would revolutionise the broadcasting sector, one of which would entail a new licence system where receivers would be levied between $3 to $5 access fee per month under a pay per view arrangement.

The migration is set to create thousands of jobs in the broadcasting and downstream industries as there will be several broadcasting channels. Presenting a ministerial statement in the National Assembly to update the House on the migration project prescribed by the ITU,  Prof Moyo said government secured funding through issuance of a Datacasting licence for Digital Dividend.

“The Datacasting Licence was issued to NetOne on December 23, 2014 by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe at the cost of $200 million after an open, transparent and competitive licensing process in accordance with the Broadcasting Services Act.

“What this means is that the broadcasting sector has been innovative enough to fund the country’s digital migration. This is commendable given the challenge of competing demands on Treasury,” said Prof Moyo to rousing applause from legislators across the political divide.

Upon securing the $200 million, said Prof Moyo, BAZ engaged a Chinese company, Huawai Technologies, to implement the digital migration on the basis of a feasibility study submitted to government last year.

Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Beijing on August 2014 during a historic state visit by President Robert Mugabe where several mega deals were signed.

<p> Prof Moyo said the implementation would be done in two phases, with the first one expected to be completed by June 17, 2015 involving digitalisation of 30 transmitter sites. 

He said BAZ would ensure that there would be no analogue television transmitter along or near the country’s borders to interfere with neighbours, which was the essence of the ITU deadline.

Phase two, he said, would involve, among other several things, digitalised 18 new transmitter sites, six ZBC studios, six content production centres, web television system — all to be completed by December 2015, except revamping 25 radio transmitters to be done by end of January 2016.

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