Uncertainty trails Nigeria’s digital broadcast migration

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By PRINCE OSUAGWU & EMEKA AGINAM

As the clock ticks towards the International Telecommunications Union, ITU’s 2015 deadline for countries to switch over to digital broadcasting, there is palpable fear among stakeholders in Nigeria over the possibility of the country to meet the deadline.

A digital broadcast studio

This is following skepticism from the two important stakeholders in the process- the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC and the Broadcasters.

While NBC reminds that a whole lot of funds, which it does not have at the moment, was needed to pull the switching through, broadcasters doubt government’s sincerity about the whole project, since many states and federal government establishments were still   ordering for analogue equipment, few months to the migration date.

At a Digital Migration Summit, in Lagos, organized by the NBC, Director General of the Commission Mr. Emeka Mba stated categorically that switching to the digital platform of broadcasting is not a tea party but a process that requires several billions of Naira to accomplish.

He however regretted that the commission does not have the kind of funds       needed at the moment to accomplish the task, stating that despite the obvious consequencies of failure, heavens will not fall if the country does not meet the migration deadline.

Although Mba was not making case for failure, he played down on the impression that any country that does not meet up with the deadline may lose her right of place in the scheme of things.

“The heavens will not fall if Nigeria fails to meet the deadline. Yes, there are implications like signal interference, missing out on new business opportunities that may spring up due to digitization and the country not being able to compete strongly in the global digital arena, but we will still move on as a country.

“Even if everything were to be in place as we hope it will be, switch off will not happen until we are sure there is near equal penetration of digital broadcasting to the current analogue system. At least 80 percent of homes will get the digital set boxes before we switch off permanently. If we do not get this till the due date, we may run a simulcast system where the digital and analogue systems operate simultaneously”

He hinted that the Commission was making some alternative arrangements to muscle funds necessary to push the project, hoping that things would work out at the end of the day.

However, despite hopes Mba relieved, other information that unfolded at the event, created additional fears that the road may not be smooth, after all.
For instance, when confronted on the issue of appropriating requisite funding for the commission to carry out a smooth task, deputy chairman, senate committee on information, Senator Bello Tukur, expressed concerns that the national assembly was not doing anything currently towards appropriation of requisite funding to support digital migration process.

He categorically stated that “the 2014 appropriation bill has not been signed into law and there are lots of reasons for the delay. We budget on the basis of what we have and the revenues we earn.

“But, for the digitisation project, it depends on how you present your case to the house. You can still make representations even if it means going through special funds.”

As if that was not enough heart- break, deputy chairman, Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), Mr. Sunday Olu Jetro, reminded the audience that “even as we speak, there is no legislation backing the digitisation process in the country.

I have my reservations about government’s sincerity towards actualising the digital migration. State governments have not made commitment to digitization; in fact, many state governments are still placing orders for analogue transmitters. I think we should also take another look at the dangers of switching over without the enabling law in a country yet to distinguish between politics and governance.”

Despite these perceived setbacks, there were some real inroads the Commission seemed to have made so far towards achieving the mandate.

Chairman of the digiteam- a body formed by the commission, to oversee processes to digitization, Mr Edward Amana, hinted on a white paper on the digitisation process which stressed the use of NTA as signal carrier for transmission.

To that extent, he informed that the Commission has created a new NTA which would transmit digital contents of all operators equitably without discrimination and at a price to be regulated by the NBC.

He also stated that as a caution, the commission has also decided to later license more two content carriers to ensure that NTA does not operate like a monopoly.

Amana also revealed that the commission has concluded plans to license a signal distributor which already, 19 companies have expressed interest.

According to him, nine out of these 19 have been prequalified, out of which only one will emerge as signal distributor.

Earlier, Mba had hinted that the NBC was planning to set up a broadcasting fund to drive content development in the sector, adding that NBC was weighing the option of multi-lateral funding agency at single digit interest rates to help stabilize the sector.

Meanwhile, he called on all broadcasters to dismiss fears and support the digitization process, saying that the digitization pilot scheme which is billed to happen in Jos June 5, 2014, will determine how far the reinvention of television in Nigeria through digital transmission will go.

 

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