ITU: No Deadline Extension for Africa on Digital Switch

Posted February 27th, 2015 at 2:48 pm (UTC-4)
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(Ted Benson for VOA)

(Ted Benson for VOA)

African countries that fail to make the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting beginning in June will not get an extension and will lose international protection rights, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

While the deadlines were reached consensually in 2006 and some African countries have already switched to digital broadcasting, others are having difficulty making the move.

In Kenya, the government’s decision to force the move by blocking analogue broadcasts has left many citizens staring at blank television screens. NTV Kenya, the leading TV broadcasting station covering part of the country and the region, took a closer look at the Kenyan dilemma in this video:

Africa is full of surprises and we may yet have a lot of success stories coming out soon — François Rancy

The ITU’s Director of Radiocomminication Bureau, François Rancy, offered more detail on Africa’s digital switch in an email interview with TECHtonics.

Q. Given Africa’s current problems, from health to conflict, why are you mandating a 2015 deadline for the continent to switch from analogue to digital?

RANCY: ITU is the specialized agency of the United Nations dealing with information and communication technologies (ICT), including Spectrum and satellite orbit issues for which ITU applies the decisions of administrations at World Radiocommunication Conferences, including those related to setting deadlines.

The deadlines related to the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting, respectively 17 June 2015 for all countries belonging to Region 1 (Europe, Africa, and Arab Countries) and Iran, and exceptionally for the countries listed in Article 12 of the Regional Agreement, Geneva 2006 17 June 2020 for VHF only, were set at the Regional Radiocommunication Conference, Geneva 2006 (RRC-06). These deadlines were consensual decisions of all participating Member States.

ITU applies the Radio Regulations and the decisions of Regional Conferences set by its Member States, and it has no power to impose or modify decisions taken by the Conferences.

Q. Most African countries, let alone average consumers, appear unprepared to make the move. Kenya is a case in point. Can you shed more light on that situation?

RANCY: The process of switching to digital TV is long and complex. The African Telecommunication Union (ATU), ITU and the African administrations worked in tandem for planning and international coordination, including the freeing of the 700 and 800 MHz bands.

ITU, in collaboration with the ATU, assisted 47 African countries in the frequency planning process for the switchover to Digital Television, enabling them to free the 700 and/or 800 MHz Bands for the Mobile service. The process ended in July 2013 and the results achieved 97.3 percent success.

The final implementation lies in the hands of each administration.

Q. Which African countries appear to be better positioned to make the move this year?

RANCY: It is very difficult to answer this question for the moment. Some countries have already introduced Digital television on simulcast with analogue. Others are in the process of doing so. Africa is full of surprises and we may yet have a lot of success stories coming out soon.

Q. Why is this move important? How will it help Africa?

RANCY:  … Digital broadcasting has many advantages, [including]:

New possibilities to the viewers:

  • Additional number of programs
  • Additional reception modes: portable and mobile reception
  • Improved quality of image and sound, including HDTV
  • Additional services: interactivity, Electronic Program Guides, etc.

TV operators/content providers:

Significant decrease in transmission costs compared to analogue:

  • Power costs: DTT requires less energy to ensure the same coverage as for analogue,
  • Investment cost: One DTT transmitter can broadcast multiple channels/programs, leading to reduction of transmission costs (Sharing infrastructure)
  • Development of new TV services without spectrum constraints
  • Offering new innovative services (mobile TV, data, games, interactivity, VoD)

For Regulators:

  • More efficient use of radio spectrum
  • Fair competition: To develop a terrestrial platform competitive with cable and satellite platforms
  • To be in line with GE06 Plan (as from 2015 no protection will be available to analogue TV)
  • Free a part of the UHF Band for mobile Broadband (as agreed at World Radiocommunication Conferences in 2007 and 2012 – WRC-07/WRC-12)

Q. What are the costs involved for African broadcasters and governments? Will they get subsidies/aid/help for ordinary citizens to buy converters?

RANCY: The subsidy, if any, is a decision of each government and according to its financial situation. Different scenarios in countries around the world that switched over to digital television [have included] no subsidy, participating vouchers by households[s], total price of set-up box for low-income households, no tax on the importation of set up boxes, making them more affordable.

Q. Is there a chance that the deadline might be extended, as was the case in the U.S. example?

RANCY: The deadlines mentioned in the first question above are only for countries of ITU Region 1, which includes Africa and is therefore a Regional decision. The USA is not part of that Regional Agreement and therefore the decision to switch-off analogue transmission was set by the US and then extended by the US.

The dates, as set by the Regional Conference, cannot be changed or extended. Article 11 of the GE06 Agreement stipulates:

No revision of the Agreement shall be undertaken except by a competent regional radiocommunication conference convened in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Constitution and Convention, to which all the Member States in the Planning Area shall be invited.

In conclusion, there is no possibility to extend the “regulatory” deadline.

A country that will not be able to implement the deadline will have to face the following situation:

  • Obligation to immediately resolve any eventual harmful interference to and from neighboring countries that have implemented the deadline
  • No right of international protection
Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

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