How delivery of STBs lightens digitisation route in Jos

Alhaji Lai Mohammed with members of staff of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) at a function in Abuja last week

Alhaji Lai Mohammed with members of staff of Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) at a function in Abuja last week

Although, local production of Set Top Boxes (STBs) is preferred to importation, the delivery of the broadcast facility recently in Abuja has rekindle the hope of wrapping up the pilot scheme of digitization which the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) flagged off on June 30, 2014.

The Commission took delivery of a total of 10,500 pieces, all imported. The facility is the decoder that aids the conversion of analogue signals to digital before they are accessed by viewers.

But Recommendation 32.8.3 of the Draft White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria reads: “Importation of Set Top Boxes should be discouraged completely.”

The delivery, recently in Abuja, was made by two of 11 companies licensed by the airwaves regulatory agency to undertake the manufacturing of the tools that will serve the estimated 20 million TV homes in the country. They are SMK Engineering Limited and Gospell Digital Technology Limited. While the former brought in 10,000 pieces, the latter supplied 500 pieces. Both are to supply 50,000 STBs each.

The offloading was done in the presence of the acting Director General of NBC, Ms. Alheri Saidu, accompanied by the agency’s management.

“We thank God we have the first sets of evidence of our seriousness towards the digital switchover. Today (February 25) is a significant day for the commission. The day we all had been looking forward to. We are also happy with you, the licensees, because you actually gave this assignment all the seriousness it deserves,” Saidu said.

She expressed the commitment of her organisation towards meeting the June 20, 2017 deadline, while thanking the licensees for their tenacity.

“Jos is a must for us. The plan we have for Jos launch will certainly be attained,” she added.

Also speaking, NBC’s Director, Public Affairs, Mallam Awwalu Salihu said the commission had reliably gathered that the 40,000 balance to be delivered by SMK Engineering were already in the country’s ports awaiting clearance while Gospel Digital Technology still had 49,500 pieces to deliver.

But the February 25 delivery came three months behind schedule as all licensed manufacturers had promised end of November last year.

One of the reasons for the delay, according to Salihu, was the inability to reach “an agreement on this bank guarantee issue for which the former DG, Mr. Emeka Mba, was detained by the EFCC early last month.

“This is because the people who were going to manufacture for them from outside would have difficulty in doing so if they are not sure their money was going to be there. That was the reason part of the money was kept in Zenith Bank as guarantee for those companies licensed to produce set-top boxes. That was the main reason for the delay. And also because of the technical input, the soft wares that will be put into the boxes, they couldn’t finish on time, so they were not ready for delivery by the end of November. But they are all beginning to deliver now. Apart from SMK and Gospel that will deliver a total of 100,000 pieces of set-top boxes, there are other nine companies whose order ranges between 50,000 and 30,000 pieces.”

On what informed taking the importation route despite PAC’s recommendation, NBC spokesperson said, “first and foremost, it is not going to be importation galore. What happened was when we were planning the re-launch for Jos, which was supposed to have taken place in November last year, it couldn’t take place because of the logistics of getting the set top boxes produced in Nigeria. It was too complicated and the time lag too short. All the companies complained that it would be impossible to meet the deadline because the timeline for setting up a company and creating the assembly line for manufacturing of set-top boxes would not be possible within that period. So, an agreement was reached with all the companies that certain numbers of the facility (STBs) should be imported in view of the need to get moving and meeting the digitisation obligation in Jos particularly. And thereafter, the rest of supply should be locally produced. Certainly, there will be no second batch of importation.”

Mallam Salihu insisted that the digitisation plan as approved by the government is on course. He debunked the insinuation of derailment raised against the commission by key industry watchers. “We have not derailed, what we are doing is just to find a way around the process to keep moving.

“Soonest, I can assure you that manufacturing of set-top boxes will commence in Nigeria. NBC has commissioned two factories and they have begun the process of production in Nigeria. There is one in Lagos having an affiliation with a Korean company. We are on course, SMK for instance, has gone far, it has its factory in Kwara State. We are not derailing, we are not leaving out the main objective of the process which is to bring manufacturing of these boxes to Nigeria and to also have a successful switch over.”

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