#YourTurn: Transition to Digital Television: Is Nigeria ready?


I consciously borrowed but adapted this title from Lennard G. Kruger’s Report written in May 2009 concerning the United States’ experience on the same subject matter. Kruger is an American Specialist in science and technology and I must admit, reading his Congressional Report on the issue finally prompted me into writing this.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that America remains No. 1 economy in the World, their political and socio-economic panache is unrivaled elsewhere on the planet, yet Kruger’s rhetoric about their readiness to transit to digital TV gave their government and people a cause for concern, reappraisal and requisite action.

Engr. Yomi Bolarinwa, the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission speaking in Geneva at the ITU Telecom Conference sometime this year, said Nigeria will be the first to go truly digital in Africa and June 17 2012 has been set as the shift-over date for digitalisation of television in Nigeria.

Digital Television (DTV) is a new television service representing the most significant development in television technology since the advent of colour television. DTV can provide movie-quality pictures and sound far superior to traditional analogue television. Digital Television technology allows a broadcaster to offer a single program stream of high definition television (HDTV) or alternatively multiple video program streams (multi casts) of standard or enhanced definition television, which provide a lesser quality picture than HDTV, but a generally better picture than analog television. DTV technology also makes possible an interactive capability such as “pay-per-view” service over the air.

In order to receive and view digital television service, consumers must have a digital television set equipped with a digital tuner capable of receiving the digital signal that is provided either over the air (in which case an antenna is required) or via cable or satellite television systems.

Implication of the proposed shift-over (even though I, like most Nigerians, am unaware of any official statement notifying us of this) is that Nigerians will henceforth be unable to use their Analogue Television without connecting same to a Set-top box (Decoder), satellite or cable.

This is good and bad news swathed into one. The good news is that, Nigeria, in the words of the Director General of NBC, will lead Africa in switch over to Digital Broadcasting and it will raise local content in Nigerian TV amongst other benefits, while  the bad news however is that majority of Nigerians cannot afford this and Nigeria as a Nation doesn’t look ready for this.

Awareness

It is not unsurprising that as at Friday, 16 December 2011 (when I succumbed to my inner pressure to write this) the social networking sites and national dailies were yet to go agog over this issue. I had to search the internet to find news items of the proposed shift-over. Apart from the National Broadcasting Commission office and a few communications-related events, notices of the impending shift-over are nowhere to be found in our news space.

Whatever happened to the ever dependable use of Radio Jingles and Television Adverts as viable tools for creation of awareness? It further belittles the image of the National Broadcasting Commission and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria as communication regulatory agencies in Nigeria if majority of Nigerians are still in oblivion of an impending transition in our broadcasting industry which will ultimately affect the economic and socio-political lives of the entire citizenry.

 Subsidy

America finally transited to Digital Television on June 12, 2009 after few postponements in date due to logistical reasons. The US government played a major role in achieving the feat by establishing a Converter-box program to partially subsidise purchase of converter boxes that was facilitated by the issuance of 40 US dollars Coupons to requesting households, and by May 10, 2009 every household in the US had already taken delivery of their device with the exception of a marginal few. It is noteworthy that the program gulped about 1.5 Billion US dollars

For a country still grappling with N18, 000 minimum wage, Nigerians more than any other natives need government intervention to provide soft landing during this process. Research shows that less than 1 percent of the Nigerian households currently subscribe to Digital Television. In reality with the exception of conglomerates and few high earners, majority of subscribers find it difficult to sustain their Pay TV subscriptions due to the unstable rates which keeps skyrocketing at will.

An average Nigerian cannot afford a digital television talk less of maintaining one; the reality of digital TV in Nigeria can only be achieved if the government will greatly subsidise the cost of converters or set up boxes as done by responsive governments in developed terrains.

Legislation

For such an important policy that will impact the totality of our lives as citizens, relative laws need to be passed or the existing ones revised and amended to accommodate the envisaged change.

In 2009, the Federal government through the NBC set up a Presidential Advisory Committee on digital migration. The upper legislative houses should as a matter of necessity deliberate on the operational and regulatory recommendations of the panel and pass the requisite legislations to facilitate the desired result.

It is interesting to note that the United States passed the Deficit Reduction Act 2005 directing the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provided coupons to requesting households and the DTV Delay Act 2009 provides for the use and expiration of the coupons.

Conclusively, while I am still in doubt as to the federal government’s resolve to stick to the 2012 shift-over date or otherwise, the NBC should further involve all stakeholders in the industry to facilitate hitch-free transition. The federal government should also take a cue from the American experience by raising funds from the sale/auction of the analogue transmission to subsidise the purchase of converter boxes for citizens. If developed countries like Australia and US (who started planning four years before time) had to postpone their original dates due to logistical reasons, how much more less-developed enclaves like ours.

Ideally the process needs to start from the National Assembly with the instrumentation of the law to facilitate a gradual and convenient transition bearing in mind our socio-economic situation. It should start now.

Olumide Babalola is the In-house Counsel of Broadcasting Company in Lagos

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*#YourTurn is open to every member of the YNaija community. Send your articles/stories to [email protected]

 

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