The issue of whether to include the control system in the DTT set-top boxes has been a source of disagreement among broadcasters for a while now, and has impacted negatively on the ability of the country to implement the broadcasting of digital television within the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU’s) agreed time lines.
As a result of these disagreements, it has become imperative for the Ministry of Communications to once again explain, in public, the objectives of the broadcasting digital migration project. It is unfortunate that this project has now been the subject of unnecessary and uninformed bickering.
In order to continue viewing television using the current analogue TV sets, the public will be required to use set-top boxes, which convert the transmitted digital terrestrial television signal to digital. Otherwise, it will be necessary to acquire digital-enabled TV sets.
I must also state that globally there is no documented research showing any country that has migrated from analogue to digital at the conceptual stage with encrypted DTT set-top boxes.
Often here at home the word encryption has been used loosely and has thus resulted in confusion. The first level is the encryption from signal distributor to the transmission sites, before distribution to the viewers. In the South African context this level of encryption is already at play with signal being encrypted when it is distributed by Sentech to the transmission sites, before being eventually distributed to the terrestrial transmission sites for onward distribution to the viewers.
The second level of encryption is what we as government have done: we have a control system to prevent government-subsidised free-to-air DTT set-top boxes from functioning in non-South African DTT networks. This is done in the spirit of protecting government investment.
The third level of encryption is for the provision of conditional access, which is primarily used in pay -TV applications.
It is not the position of government to subsidise commercial players, by putting in place encryption for conditional access for digital terrestrial reception. Government policy has been very clear and if parties want to do this then it should be at their own cost.
Encryption is not required for terrestrial free-to-air broadcasting or free-to-air DTT set-top boxes. Free-to-air broadcasters globally broadcast high-definition content without encrypting their broadcast signals. The only requirement by rights holders is that the set-top box make provision to prevent copying of high-definition content.
The compulsory standard for free-to-air digital terrestrial television set-top boxes (SANS 862) does provide for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection to satisfy this requirement of high-definition content rights holders. DM
Ndivhuho Munzhelele is Acting Director General of the Department of Communications
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