January 18, 2017

Nigeria may bungle digital migration again

Digital Switchover

Digital switchover

Nigeria may, once again, fail to meet up with the June 20, 2017 deadline for migration to digital broadcasting. If it happens, that would be the third time the country would bungle the digital migration assignment.

This is neither prediction nor doomsday prophecy. It is mainly because barely five months to the new deadline, similar developments that led to the failure of previous two attempts appear to be playing out again.

By Prince Osuagwu

After Nigeria alongside other 119 member countries in 2006 signed up to the International Telecoms Union, ITU protocol to transit from Analogue to Digital broadcasting by 2015 in line with the current global trend, the country gave itself a task of concluding transition by June 17 2012, three years before deadline. In a bid to achieve the 2012 migration date, the federal government in 2007, approved the process and in 2008, it inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

Digital migration

The committee submitted a report with several recommendations on how the country will achieve its aim.

However, for what many stakeholders described as lack of political will, the government, kept silent on the report and failed to release a white paper on it for three years.

Digital switchover

As a result of that, Nigeria failed to comply with the June 17, 2012, digital migration deadline it set for itself. Having missed migration in 2012, government resorted to the main ITU deadline of June 17, 2015 and quickly inaugurated a 14-man team tagged Digiteam Nigeria.

Again, scepticism  from the two important stakeholders in the process – the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC and the Broadcasters, few months after the inauguration, began to send signals that the process may still derail.

While NBC reminded that a whole lot of funds, which it didn’t have at the time, were needed to achieve DSO, broadcasters doubted 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.

The result at the end of the day was that Nigeria joined 51 other African countries at that time, which failed to meet the June 17, 2015 deadline. The implication of that particular goof was that analogue signals from Nigerian broadcasting stations would receive no protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from neighbouring countries. Because there were reports that if the analogue transmitters should interfere with any digital broadcast in the neighbouring countries, ITU can force the country to shut down its own analogue transmitters, Nigeria appealed to the organisation for an extension to June 2017.

With this new focus, the federal government began a gradual transmission from analogue to digital broadcasting in Jos, Plateau State, and Abuja, the federal capital territory. These schemes were planned to set the pace for other states to follow.

However, indications are that the process may be scuttled again and come June 20, 2017, Nigeria may still not fully move from analogue to digital transmission.

At least, the Set-Top Box Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, STBMAN, feels so. Part of their reasons is that considering the logistics involved in a digital migration, if the key parties to the migration are yet to be mobilised by now, the process could be dead on arrival.

STBMAN said that manufacturing of STB Electronics requires several components and parts that are made by different vendors and OEMs. Some of these parts, especially the Chipset, which is the core of the STB needs a lead timeline of between 12 to 16 weeks from different vendors, from order to delivery. Then the manufacturer would need to still integrate and test before shipping out.

They have also petitioned the federal government, listing out reasons it felt that unless the government had designed the transmission for failure, it should act now.

Transmission for failure

According to the president of the association, Sir Godfrey Ohuabunwa “considering how important set top boxes are to the whole process and the commitment the manufacturers have shown all through, the government ought to have paid us before now, to ensure a smooth transition. Even the signal carriers by now should have set up their networks across the country; we are talking about barely five months away, for goodness sake”.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the NBC, Mr Modibo Kawu, dismissed all fears and insisted that Nigeria would surely meet the June 20, 2017 deadline. Kawu said that ‘‘it is true that we have not paid the manufacturers. We have to be sure there was adequate delivery of the boxes to Nigerians before payment can be made.

‘‘They are many, so we could not begin to pay the manufacturers without ascertaining the level of compliance in the distribution of the boxes. We have to make sure that they have brought in the boxes and get them distributed.

‘‘For us, payment is not a problem at all. The money has been given to us by government. There are procedures to follow before payment can be made”.

The STBMAN position paper to government, read it part: “It will be recalled that the journey leading to the recent Jos and Abuja Digital Switch On for Terrestrial Television, started sometime in 2008 when Nigeria signed up to the ITU protocol to transit from Analogue to Digital in line with the current global trend. It is worthy of note that prior to the launch, several efforts were made to achieve the migration to the Digital regime but with little or no success. DSO target had to be moved from 2015 to June 2017 and as at now, the DSO has only a six-month timeline to be achieved.

Signal distribution

In addition to Signal Distribution, Set Top Boxes (STB) were identified as critical components of this transition. 30million STBs were estimated to be needed for the Nigerian market. As such, the Federal Government in its bid to promote local industry and create Jobs, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) issued licenses to thirteen (13) indigenous companies to locally manufacture Set Top Boxes in Nigeria, who paid N50, 000,000 (Fifty Million Naira) each for the Licenses’. Totaling N650Miilion,

10million of these STBs were proposed by Government white paper to be subsidized for identified poor households all over the country. Already 1.2million of this 10million already subsidized under the First phase, leaving a total of 8.8million STBs for subsidy and overall 28.8million STBs estimated for the entire country, for a successful DSO.

Current Status:According to Kawu: The Jos DSO launch and the Abuja launch despite the obstacles have clearly shown the commitment of Government to the total pursuit of the digitization nationwide with a firm and clear statement in its determination to meet the June 2017 dateline as clearly stated by the President as IRREVERSABLE. This fact is clear from the commitment, support and attention that the Honourable Minister has brought to bear on the whole project, the hard work of the Stakeholders and the Presidential kind release of the N10billion STB Guarantee fund, hitherto held by the EFCC.

Owing to the urgency and need to meet the Date slated for the launch of the Pilot project in Jos, the NBC authorized the manufacturers to import the STB for the Launch. To encourage the STB manufacturers overcome fears of lack of patronage from the citizenry-a situation that had hampered previous attempts-the NBC decided to provide trade comfort to the manufacturers by way of Bank Guarantees to enable for the manufacture and importation of the STBs; 850,000 have been manufactured.