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R10bn later‚ government drops set-top boxes in latest digital migration flip-flop

Government drops set-top boxes in latest digital migration flip-flop.
Government drops set-top boxes in latest digital migration flip-flop.

R10bn and many years later‚ government is stopping the procurement of set-top boxes meant to facilitate the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting‚ opting for an industry-driven "hybrid model". 

This is according to communications minister and cabinet spokesperson Nomvula Mokonyane‚ who told the media in Cape Town on Thursday that the cabinet has taken the decision at its fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.

Mokonyane said government would now stop directly procuring‚ transporting and installing set-top boxes to a projected five million poor households and would seek a public-private partnership with dominant players in broadcasting such as Multichoice and the SABC to take the digital migration forward.

This is the latest flip-flop in the government's policy around digital migration‚ which has been lagging behind for several years now due to policy inconsistencies.

Mokonyane said they were now working with a "multi-disciplinary advisory council" on the implementation of its new stance on digital migration‚ which also comprised of manufacturers of digital decoders‚ the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa)‚ Stats SA and Telkom among others.

She revealed that government has been advised that existing set-top boxes were using technology that has increasingly become obsolete.

"Three things have come out of the assessment: that it's not sustainable for government to be the one that procures and stores… with the development and advancement of technology‚ some of the interventions that were considered have come to be obsolete and hence you need a hybrid of intervention.

"Those that are supposed to be cushioned by government are still going to benefit‚ but not just benefit through a set-top box. I've said there are considerations of vouchers hence we're working with the retail sector‚ the manufacturing sector‚ Multichoice and SABC‚" said Mokonyane.

"We'll also be creating jobs but we'll be adapting with new developments in the technology space‚ hence (the department of) science and technology and the Centre of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are also assisting in dealing with these matters and the department of trade and industry are also helping us in terms of dealing with the manufacturing."

However‚ Mokonyane said they were due to start distributing the set-top boxes that had already been manufactured to poor households in the Free State‚ North-West and the Northern Cape.

"Work that has been done until now‚ with the procurement‚ installation‚ the awareness (campaigns) and everything is [what] comes to about R10bn and that includes the gadgets that are in the different warehouses that we want to dispose of by connecting them and putting them into use."

Turning to the matter of the rapidly rising fuel costs‚ which has put pressure on cash-strapped consumers‚ energy minister Jeff Radebe said government had given the petroleum sector until next Thursday to express their views on the proposed introduction of a cap on the price of 93-octane petrol.

"Last week Wednesday the department of energy started a consultation process with the petroleum industry‚ asking for expert advice what the impact would be if we were to set a maximum price for 93 unleaded. So we've given the industry until October 18 to respond to us‚ after which we'll take an appropriate decision."

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