e.tv argues that all pay-TV licence applicants affiliated with government should be declined

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

Private sector TV broadcaster e.tv fought against the state continuing its dominance of the airwaves into the digital age as it does in the analogue era.

e.tv opposed Telkom and Sentech's applications for pay-TV licences at the Independent Communications Authority of South's (Icasa's) hearings yesterday, arguing that all applicants affiliated with the state should be declined.

Currently, nearly the entire FM radio frequency and the UHF television band are hogged by the state's SABC. South Africa's sole free-to-air TV broadcaster was issued with a VHF frequency, which many households cannot receive, clearly if at all.

e.tv legal representative Dan Rosengarten said: "Any applicant where the government exercises any form of control should not be licensed. It would be against the principles of the Electronic Communications Act and the spirit of competition."

Unsurprisingly, the incumbent player is not in favour of too much new competition being allowed. Rosengarten urged the authority to be careful of over-licensing and that too many new entrants would create market fragmentation, which would cause unnecessary damage to the industry.

Twenty applicants are expected to present their business plans to Icasa. There has been no indication by the authority of the number of companies that will be awarded the rights to broadcast under a satellite or digital licence.

"We feel that a more robust process should be called for," Rosengarten said. "Just because an applicant has a good business plan, sound business acumen and access to financing should not mean they qualify for a licence."

Following a presentation by the SABC, Icasa councillor Zolisa Mashiza said: "The authority has confirmed certain applicants who have been awarded licences; we will award further applicants according to the same standards."

Rosengarten said that South Africa already had a strong satellite television provider (Dstv), which would "jealously protect" its market and earnings.