Reps, Signal distributor raise fear over switchover deadline
Ahead of the June 17 deadline for the analogue to digital switch over (DSO) in Nigeria, there are fears that dearth of policy, inadequate funding and poor infrastructure may again, prevent the country from achieving this feat.
The House of Representatives and one of the signal distributors raised this alarm, stressing that funding and adequate infrastructure are very crucial to achieving fully digitalised television broadcasting, as with these and other necessary logistics, the process will be smoother.
Indeed, Nigeria requires about $1.2billion or N366billion at N305/$1 to purchase about 30 million set-top boxes at $45 each to meet the digital needs of at least 95 per cent of the population estimated at 189 million.
Nigeria actually failed to migrate in 2015, for these same challenges. The implications of not migrating this year are many. Apart from signal interference from neighbouring countries that have migrated, the digital dividend that should come from the process through the release of the 700MHz/800MHz spectrum from broadcasters to telecoms operators from improved broadband provisioning would also be affected.
The Managing Director, Integrated Television Services (ITS), Rotimi Salami, raised the alarm during the visit of the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values, led by its Chairman, Olusegun Odebunmi, to ITS office in Jos, Plateau State.
He said: “Generally, the challenge we are having is funding and government money is not just spent anyhow you want, there is a process and this process is guided by principles. For example, we inherited infrastructure from the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), but we need to replace analogue equipment. We have to install infrastructure and we need N45 billion to put effective infrastructure that will cover Nigeria, we need support to realise our goal.”
The Guardian gathered that during the visit, the committee members also expressed concerns about how the new deadline would be met with almost all relevant parties to the project having one complaint or the other.
The Odebunmi-led committee which visited the zonal offices of the NTA, Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), and ITS in Jos, said that it discovered among other challenges that there is no law backing the DSO. This is because the International Telecoms Union (ITU) treaty signed by Nigeria, as a member country has not been domesticated in the National Assembly.
Similarly, the committee also discovered lack of funds as an impediment, considering that there has been no appropriation for the DSO since inception of the process and even the 2017 budget makes no provision for such activity.
Specifically, the Director-General, NBC, Mallam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, had told the lawmakers that “We need about 30 million boxes for Nigeria, if we assume that a television household is a man, one wife, and four children; it’s a six-person’s household. If we multiply 30 million boxes by $45, which is the cost for one box in the present ecosystem (about $1.2billion), maybe we would need the entire budget of Nigeria to achieve 30 million boxes.”
Kawu however disclosed that Nigeria has only been able to import the first sets of 650,000 set-top boxes, at a cost of $26 million, which were subsidised by Government.
“That is why we are selling them at N1,500. Now, moving forward, the question is: Can Nigeria continues, realistically, given the state of the economy, to subsidise the boxes around the country? It’s a question we are asking ourselves; we all know that honestly, it would be very difficult,” he added.
According to him, “As of this morning, Nigeria’s population is about 189 million, and the whole idea of a digital switchover is that we must be able to cover 95 per cent of the country. Imagine about 180 million people, watching television. That would be the success.”
But he expressed Nigeria’s commitment to the transition process, noting that “it’s a huge logistic process and one that will help us to change forever the face of television broadcasting in our country.”