Doubts Trail Nigeria Meeting Digital Deadline | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Doubts Trail Nigeria Meeting Digital Deadline

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Posted: Apr 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


Emmanuel Okwuke Lagos


As Nigeria prepares to meet the June 2017 digital broadcasting switch over deadline, industry regulator, the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC), says the satellite uplink service for the pilot phase located in Jos, Plateau State, is now ready for the exercise.

However, industry stakeholders doubt the readiness, saying it is all a smokescreen to deceive Nigerians that all was well when in reality, the reverse is the case.

They pointed out that funds necessary for the digital switch over (DSO), the requisite set up boxes (SUB) and the necessary sensitisation of the citizenry are yet to be in place, thus putting doubts to the nation’s readiness for the exercise.

The NBC actually confirmed the readiness of the satellite link last weekend, which it says was deployed by a Nigerian technology company, Computer Warehouse Group (CWG).

Ms. Alheri Saidu, the acting Director-General of NBC, indeed disclosed its readiness for the switch over following an inspection visit to the facilities at the CWG site of the satellite uplink system in Lagos.

Similarly, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture, on Wednesday, said that the June 2017 date for switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting was sacrosanct.

However, stakeholders have picked holes in all the arrangements by the NBC, claiming that the Jos pilot project has been in the works for the past four years and has never kicked off.

Moreover, they claim that the money needed for the project has not been made available by the government and some top management staff that made efforts to raise funds for the project have gotten their fingers burnt in the process.

Emeka Mba, former Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), before he was sacked by the present administration, disclosed that the country would need about N60 billion for the project, with a projection that the Federal Government would provide substantial part of the funds, while the remaining would be independently sourced by the commission, including revenue from spectrum allocations.

“We continue to work with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) and other interested stakeholders to ensure that our preparations in terms of content offering, and the digital broadcast infrastructure are in place.”

According to him, digital television broadcasting brings tremendous benefits not only to broadcasting but also to the larger economy as it also helps bridge the digital divide, improving access to information and social inclusion. As such, the need for the transition is to improve overall audio and visual quality also means allowing for more channels and viewing options.

Irrespective of Mba’s views, it is evident that the Federal Government may have reduced funding for the switch over, and subsequently diverted the funds to other things they consider more important, especially now that oil revenue is dwindling by the day.

This has subsequently prompted the NBC to look at other means of raising the estimated funds.

Mba also noted that government would be subsidising set top boxes (STB) to make it affordable for all categories of households in the country. The target, which was revealed at the digitisation contact group meeting held in Lagos, is to have the decoders sold to users at $20 about N4, 000 based on current exchange rate.

Aside setting up committees and releasing white paper for the digitisation process, it is believed that the Nigerian government has not shown serious commitment to the digital switch over project, says Edward Amana, chairman of the DigiTeam, a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC), set up by the NBC to implement the whitepaper on digital migration.

According to him, even a migration target of June 2017 might not be achievable for the country as the political will, which is about funding, is not there to drive the process. Amana said that planning has been done – set-top box manufacturers have been licensed and signal distributors have been appointed. But no money has been released by government for the public awareness campaign that will drive the process.

Speaking on the implication should Nigeria miss the June deadline, Amana said the implication is that analogue television frequency from Nigeria will cause interference to the digital television transmission in neighbouring countries.

“This apart, the digital dividend resulting from the switching-off of all analogue transmitters cannot be effectively utilised in Nigeria. The switch-off of analogue transmitters should release a total of 168MHz of premium spectrum that can be deployed for mobile broadband,” Amana stated.

Speaking on the expected digital dividends, Mr Segun Ogunsanya, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Airtel Nigeria, said currently GSM operators have only 15MHz assignment in 1800MHz band, which is paired with 5MHz on the 900MHz.

“With the 700MHz spectrum allocation, GSM operators can significantly increase their capacity, improve quality, and also reduce capital expenditure, and the savings from operating costs will translate to affordable telecommunications services.

“We urge government to urgently finalise and conclude the 700MHz allocations. There should be effective coordination between the NCC, NBC and National Frequency Management Council (NFMC) to ensure that the 700MHz spectrum band is cleared and released for telecoms services as recommended by the ITU,” he said, pointing out that the release of more spectrum can potentially impact positively on Nigeria’s GDP and lead to creation of more jobs.

Also speaking on the importance of the digital dividends, President, Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, said releasing the spectrum bands to investors that will roll-out service on them will add a new vigour to the industry, especially now that the next revenue frontier of the industry has shifted from voice to data.

Speaking on behalf of the SES, the General Manager, Mr. Ibrahim Guimba- Saidou, stated that the SES was honoured to be a part of the journey towards the digital switch over.

Within the broadcast industry regulator, the DSO is regarded as a top priority in an industry currently estimated to have about 2.5m digital TV homes, a number that is expected to increase dramatically to 20 million after the digital switch over (DSO), to make Nigeria the biggest digital TV market in Africa.

With Nigeria also accounting for over 149 million mobile phone lines, making it one of the fastest growing mobile market in the world, NBC reckons a growth traction of over 20.4 million free-to-air (FTA) TV households across the country and also estimates that digital TV penetration will reach 100 percent by 2020.