Prospects bright for meeting digital TV deadline in Ghana
New ways of recording and using content such as photos, music, videos and digital technologies have become indispensable in today's fast-paced digital world. Television and radio broadcasting have also evolved and, all over the world, broadcasters are ready to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting.
In 2006, a regional radio communication conference held in Geneva developed a digital terrestrial broadcasting plan and established an agreement by which countries party to it were required to replace their existing analogue televisions with digital broadcasting by 17 June 2015.
Towards this goal, Ghana has put in place its migration strategy, that is, a series of laws that create an enabling environment for this purpose, according to Joshua Peprah, Director of Licensing
at the National Communication Authority (NCA).
An overview of Ghana's existing terrestrial analogue TV signal distribution shows that operators use various frequencies or combinations thereof. The state broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, has 30 transmitters operating in Very High Frequency (commonly known as VHF) Band III and 9 repeater stations operating in Ultra High Frequency Bands IV and V. Private broadcasters such as TV3, Metro TV and TV Africa operate in Band III, while Net2 TV, Viasat 1, e-TV Ghana, Crystal TV and Coastal TV operate with UHF transmitters.
"Challenges posed by the operation of analogue systems which justify the migration to digital include poor infrastructure sharing, co-location and poor reception conditions," Mr. Peprah said.
"It is therefore the wish of government to among others, comply with and adopt the tenets of the 2006 Geneva agreement, prevent dumping of obsolete analogue TV equipment into the country, and enhance the quality and experience of TV viewing in Ghana," he added.
Because of the technical nature of digital migration, Ghana has set up the Policy Recommendations of National Digital Broadcasting Migration Technical Committee. As part of the work of the committee, it is expected that standards would be set soon to provide for interoperability with other multimedia platforms such as the Internet, video and audio as well as with handhelds (mobile TV), thereby facilitating the seamless introduction of high-definition TV in the future. Meanwhile, the committee is advocating a public education strategy to raise awareness at the national, regional and district levels. This could result in final digital migration by 2014. Ghana's switchover timetable started in January 2010.
At the just-ended Sixth Annual Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum, organised by the Commonwealth Telecommunication Organisation (CTO) in Johannesburg, the feasibility and affordability of digital migration were examined. A hundred experts from Commonwealth, European and Middle Eastern countries who were in South Africa to represent governments, industry and NGOs at the February conference, discussed effective ways to implement digital broadcasting. Participants shared national experiences on digital migration, including getting enabling legislative instruments right in order to stimulate innovative technology that puts more power in the hands of the people and gives them greater choices that enrich their lives.
A number of countries in Europe have completed their Digital Switch-Off (DSO), and others are at different stages of completion, representing an overall 70% level of completion for the region, in accordance with the EU's 2012 deadline. By contrast, progress on the African continent has been slow.
According to a report in October 2010 by Russell Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act, just five African countries are on track with their digital migration process. Balancing Act is a consultancy and online publishing firm specialising in telecoms, Internet and broadcasting in Africa.
Of the remaining 48 countries, 10 are at pilot stage, 29 are inactive and the status of the rest is unknown. It is also evident that different deadlines have been set by individual countries.
Indeed, the challenges of switching from analogue to digital broadcasting were noted at the CTO's 5th Digital Broadcasting Switchover Forum held in Johannesburg in April 2010. Though delegates were willing to make the switch, the Event Report noted that digital migration was "a complex and costly process that required careful planning and delivery from all stakeholders in each country. Delegates acknowledged the harsh macroeconomic environment that militated against the swift implementation of the switchover process."
Delegates at the DBSF 2011 event in South Africa organised by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation
Caiphus Moletsane, of the Botswana Telecom Authority reported that the country is relatively new to broadcasting regulation and it was not until 2007, that the country's broadcasting regulator awarded nationwide licences to three private TV operators. In addition, there are two state-owned licensed radio stations and one TV station to be licensed shortly and all are expected to broadcast nationwide.
There is also one licensed private terrestrial TV station with regional coverage. The Botswana government has now resolved to merge the regulation of broadcasting, telecoms and postal services. The Southern African country, like Ghana, has set up a digital migration task force, launched in 2009 to develop and recommend the digital migration process.
The Task Force has split itself into four focal areas in line with the project, made up of, Content, Technical, Public Education and Policy Committees and the country hopes to complete
its migration process by 31 January 2015. There is a mindfulness to sustain public awareness until after the switchover. Mr. Moletsane added that government subsidises the acquisition of the
device required for tuning digital TV, known as a Set-top box (STB).
"Technically, the public broadcaster uses transmitters that are digitally ready and since it operates regionally, there are few transmitters to replace," said Mr. Moletsane. All transmitters covering 80% of the population have the ability to be upgraded to first generation terrestrial digital video broadcasting (DVB-T).
Even though Botswana has not yet made a decision on which standard to adopt, it is currently carrying out technical trials, with strong consideration of opting for second generation terrestrial digital video broadcasting (DVB-T2). The public broadcaster has made a deliberate decision to wait for government to pronounce which standard it has adopted, before rolling it out.
On the very important subject of content production, even though it is low in the country, Botswana is making headway with some positive developments lately. Some companies have started sponsoring content producers with broadcasters also supporting content producers by commissioning them to produce content for them. The Copyright Society of Botswana is in operation, having appointed a CEO in January 2011. This is expected to ensure quality content promotion in the industry.
On policy, the Task Force wishes the industry regulator to develop a licensing framework that takes into account broadcasting in the digital platform; develop a digital migration policy; develop legislation that would facilitate smooth licensing or migration and a single signal distributor and two multiplexers; set technical standards in line with the current infrastructure roll out; and recommend subsidies.
Speaking about the challenges faced by African countries in their digital switchover strategies, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of the CTO said, "The migration from analogue to digital technologies can be a challenging one for a continent as large as Africa. However, shared best practices from ‘digital-ready’ countries can help alleviate some of the challenges faced during the migration."
Attentive participants at the DBSF 2011 event
"While these are challenges that are not new to any country that has gone through a digital switchover, in Africa it also addresses its socio-economic developmental needs, thereby bringing it closer to the Millennium Development Goals. It also creates new opportunities of deploying advanced technologies and building electronic manufacturing hubs to meet the upcoming demands for a set-box."
South Africa seems way ahead of countries such as Ghana and Botswana in the process of digital migration and would rather concentrate on incentives to encourage migration, since the effort is expensive and has to be weighed against trade-offs such as good roads, markets and health centres. South Africa's Director of Broadcasting Policy, Mashilo Boloka, points out that only a few countries have considered incentives schemes as drivers and accelerators of digital terrestrial TV uptake on the continent.
General subsidies, which reduce the cost of owning TV sets and digital tuners are prevalent in the US, South Africa, and Mexico. Dr. Boloka points to another type of incentive known in South Africa as the Help Scheme. This addresses access to STBs, installation and aerial re-tuning or replacement. South Africa has a range of other monetary incentives such as transmission subsidies, and non-monetary incentive channels, moratoria on the licensing of new entrants during dual illumination and expanded capacity on multiplexes. But are costly incentive schemes that bankroll luxurious TV services at the expense of critical social services such as health and education not likely to attract negative publicity?
Dr. Baloka points out that digital migration is not merely an obligation of the UN agency for information and communication technologies, the ITU. He says that it is also about human rights access to information and services, as well as creating jobs, rebuilding industries and building capacity for African industries. "African government must recognise that there are long-term economic and social benefits if implementation strategies are home-brewed," Dr. Baloka said. A key message of the forum was that all African governments should have in place a digital migration policy with a clear and plausible timetable, and that Digital Switch Over should be linked to key national ICT objectives such as rural connectivity and development of e-applications and e-content.
As the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting kicks in, there are concerns over whether the West is using Ghana to dump its analogue TV sets