White Noise

How to miss a deadline

Sentech is almost R1 billion short only days before the pre-set dual illumination broadcast date.
1 November 2008

Only days before state signal distributor Sentech is meant to go live with its dual illumination process, it has still to acquire the funds required for the three-year process that will see South Africa migrate from analogue to a digital broadcasting model.

Avoiding the question of meeting the 1 November deadline, the company said it's certain that discussions with the Department of Communications (DOC) on whether it will receive the funds will be "finalised soon".

"We're still in discussion with the DOC regarding the dual illumination costs," said company CEO Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane in a statement.

Sentech reported earlier this year that it was still looking for the R917 million it needed to drive the dual illumination process, but that it had not been allocated the funds from the DOC amid allegations that the department was still grappling with Sentech management over its handling of funds already handed out in this financial year.

Sentech has dismissed these as pure speculation, saying government has not said anything about not trusting its usage of the already allocated state funds.

"Sentech has requested funding from government for the rollout of the digital television network as well as a national broadband wireless network. Partial funding for both projects has been received and Sentech continues to engage government on the rest," Mokone-Matabane said.

Salt in the wound

We're still in discussion with the DOC regarding the dual illumination costs.
Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, Sentech
As a possible solution to Sentech's financial woes, DOC spokesperson Joe Makhafola has previously been quoted as saying the department would like to see Sentech's status as a parastatal amended in order to raise funds from the private sector.

Explaining this, Mokone-Matabane said this would mean Sentech would be placed in the same Public Financial Management Act (PFMA) schedule as the SABC and the SA Post Office.

"It's common knowledge that there are competing interests for the limited state funds and that Sentech also has to compete to meet some of its mandates," she added.

A recent report on ITWeb suggested that Sentech and the DOC are struggling to come to an agreement on how access to set-top boxes (STBs), the units needed to convert digital TV signals for reception on analogue sets, should be handled. The DOC is said to be adamant that full conditional access is used to secure STBs.

Broadcasters, on the other hand, are of the view that software allowing such control will inflate the price of the units, making it prohibitive for the average man on the street to afford and install, unaided.

A representative of free-to-air TV station eTV was quoted as saying: "What the minister is asking for, conditional access, is a security measure associated with pay-television [and] not a free-to-air concept."

Although these issues may seem to be small in comparison with the entire migration process, they are pivotal to the process getting off the ground. These events are also a strong indicator that the DOC and Sentech will not be able to go live with dual illumination at the beginning of November as expected.

The big question is not about when Sentech will eventually go live, but rather what the knock-on effect will be.