Stakeholders task FG on digital switchover

Stakeholders task FG on digital switchover

Critical stakeholders have urged the federal government to ensure the realisation of a full transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting despite efforts by some to scuttle the process, JOHN ADETUNJI writes. Nigeria had shown interest in joining the rest of the world in transiting from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting. The country is signatory to the Geneva 2006 Agreement on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting, alongside member states of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Region 1. Nigeria in its quest to join the digital broadcasting had set a target for digital switch over (DSO) from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT). But despite that, the country has failed in its transition bid. After breaching the nine-year window (June 2006-June 2015), Nigeria is yet to transit fully.

We recalls that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had set 2015 as the deadline for full transition to digital broadcast in ultra-high frequency (UHF) and 2020 for very high frequency (VHF) all over the world. Since ITU set the target, a self-motivated Nigeria had set three targets in 2012, 2015 and 2017, but failed to meet any of the targets. In June 2006, a digital broadcasting plan covering 116 countries (mainly in Africa and Europe) was agreed to for the frequency bands 174–230 MHz and 470–862 MHz at the ITU Regional Radio Communication Conference in Geneva. According to this plan known as the GE06, the analogue switch-off date was June 17, 2012 (on a first trial) and June 17, 2015 (except for some countries in some frequency bands where the deadline is June 17 2020).

From June 17, 2012 to June 17, 2017, Nigeria missed five concurrent years of meeting its set target and the opportunities of wealth creation that comes with it. Experts have urged the government not to relent in its quest for digital switch over because of the huge benefits the nation stands to gain from it. They said a switchover will make Nigeria the largest digital television market in Africa, and will also give an incredible leverage to film, music, drama productions and at the dawn of a new era for government, television channels, producers, advertisers and most importantly, the Nigerian TV customers. The experts are particularly delighted that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has been pursuing realising the switchover policy with more clarity and stable patronage. It is expected that Nigeria would generate $1billion annually after the completion of the digital switch over. Speaking at a forum in Ogun State, Vice President Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo reiterated that the digital switchover being undertaken by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) will make Nigeria the biggest digital television market in Africa. He said: “With our population and a TV penetration of about 25m digital TV homes, the digital switchover guided by the National Broadcasting Commission and other stakeholders will make Nigeria the biggest digital TV market in Africa.’’

In term of policy formulation, the federal government took some decisions in the implementation of digital switchover such as: there will be a separation of functions in the Broadcast Industry; there will be a separation of functions in the Broadcast Industry; a Signal Distributor or Carrier will be responsible for the transmission of the signals to the viewers at home; three Signal Distributors or Carriers are to be licensed, one of which is one is to evolve from the transmission infrastructure of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA);the transmission standard shall be the DVB-T2 Format with MPEG-4 AVC Compression Format; Set Top Boxes (STB) to enable existing analogue television receivers to continue receiving the digital transmission after the switchover date will be manufactured in Nigeria. Also, experts said the political implications of Nigeria being the leader in the sub-region specifically and continent generally, the Digital Switchover (DSO) has huge financial, social, technological and cultural benefits to Nigeria as properly appreciated by the president. Sector experts have adduced significant reasons underlying the president’s interest.

According to an expert, Femi Adeola, today, all terrestrial television stations in Nigeria are operating on 450MHZ – 862MHZ: At digital switchover, all the TV stations, both old and new ones will operate under 450Mhz-694Mhz, leaving the whole of 700Mhz and 800Mhz Free.  These frequencies (700MHZ & 800MHZ) will be farmed back and sold by the FGN as part of the digital dividend and this worth over $4billion revenue to federal government coffers. Already, one of these frequencies was sold for N32billion. He said: ‘‘By switching from analogue to digital transmission, the Local Government Areas of Nigeria, through the software application of the new Set Top Box will be able to electronically collect Television/Radio license fee from every TV-Household amounting to over N120billion annually, which have been difficult to collect. Since 2015 to-date state/local governments have lost more than N450bn collectable internally generated revenue. This could be used to develop the LGAs that are in dire need of basic infrastructure” ‘‘The DSO will create over 50,000 direct jobs and anotherover 250,000 indirect jobs emanating from the new STB Local Manufacturers, over 200 new television stations and numerous local content production companies that will serve as feed-stock for these new 24-hour television channels.

The positive Impact in the labour market, youth empowerment, creative industry and manufacturing sector can only be imagined” ‘‘The Nigerian advertising / media revenue will quadruple to about $6.7billion as the new FREETV (Free To Air (FTA) Set Top Box (Decoders) will provide audience measurement, making Nigeria reap from its huge population – beating South Africa, Kenya and Ghana who are topping the list now. With Digital Switch Over, Nigerian viewers will have access to more than 24 to over 200 free to air channels on the FREETV Set To Box – ranging from News, movies, sports, lifestyle and general entertainment channels. ‘‘The new DSO FREETV Set Top Box will enhance Nollywood film and content monetization, by providing the platform for new movies and films to be released and distributed, hence fighting piracy. The industry is worth more than US$5.1 billion, making it the third most valuable film industry in the world, behind the United States and India. With the DSO the creative industry will experience a boom and the much-needed profit from creative works by content owners can be achieved. Eliminating piracy is the singular most important challenge to the creative industry in Nigeria.

DSO is the solution. ‘‘The quality of life of Nigerian TV households will improve significantly with better TV viewing experience; better quality picture and clearer sound. There will be more cost saving options – receiving the same type of Pay TV channels on the new ‘FREETV’, free to air Set top box. All free of charge under the digital switch over.  Interactive TV experience – the new Digital FREETV Set Top Box (decoder) comes with value added services such as Video on demand, VOD, PushVOD, OTT, E-Commerce, telemedicine, telebanking: The special interactive children education channels and government real-time information channel are added value for Nigerians.’’

Analysts said the digital switchover regime as envisaged by the federal government has indeed taken root in the country and what remains is for the proper harnessing of all available resources and the political will to give it a more enduring life. According to them, there is no better testimony to this when the Jos Pilot and Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, Ilorin and Oshogbo digital switch no’s launched by the Vice President and the Hon, Minister of information and Culture are reviewed. ‘‘These were powered by the licensed signal distributors with locally manufactured FREETV set top boxes by Gospell Digital Technology FZE and the other Nigerian licensed local set top box assembling plants all over Nigeria, transmitting over 25 free to air TV channels on the Freetv platform. Having achieved this much, and bearing in mind the slow pace and confusion caused by the unfortunate removal of the former DG of NBC Emeka Mba and the EFCC imbroglio vis-a-vis the June 17th 2017 switch off cut-off date which is now passed and the realities on ground, the emerging consensus is that there is need for sober and in-depth review of situations in NBC to make meaningful and sustainable progress of the DSO,’’ said Adeola. Stakeholders said that to sustain President Buhari’s apparent resolve to forge ahead on the DSO front, about five measures should be deployed to aid quick completion by June 2021: The federal government should set up a DSO Implementation Presidential Task Force, or reconstitute the Digi-team with a power to implement the Digital Switchover Program in line with the White Paper and the team headed by a seasoned, knowledgable stake holder as administrator with at least additional 10 members drawn from Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Association of Cable Satellite Operators of Nigeria (ACON), Association of Licensed STB Manufactures of Nigeria (STBMAN), The Governors Forum, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Customs, and Representatives from Ministry of Trade and Industry, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), APCON and NBC. According to a stakeholder who pleaded anonymity, ‘‘This will free the NBC from the challenge being experienced now, where NBC is the initiator, a player and also the regulator, hence, the seeming confusion. NBC’s roll should be that of an umpire and not a player. The approved white paper envisaged the implementation roll to the DIGI-TEAM and not NBC ‘‘The DSO new Presidential Implementation Task Force should immediately call for all stakeholders meeting to trash out some grey areas bothering broadcasters and come out with a firm road map and fixed Switch- On and Switch-Of time table in the shortest possible time, in order to mitigate the slippage of time and the attendant financial loss by investors and loss of confidence by the Public ‘‘The federal government should as matter of urgency release the N15billion already approved for NBC and the balance N32billion cost of DSO implementation according to the government white paper to the reconstituted DSO Presidential implementation Task Force for proper accountability.

The DSO should be given the required impetus as a national project and the Presidency should show leadership, with guidance from NBC as its impact will garner international good will and robust political leverage for the government and the people of Nigeria. ‘‘It no longer a secret that shadowy entrepreneurs working in tandem with some industry players are bent on truncating the digital switch over for whatever reason. These crops of mischief makers have continued in their effort to discredit the process and make Nigeria lose the benefit of the digital switch over and remain technologically backward. ‘‘Fortunately, with the mounting presidential interest and resolve – added to the fact that the DSO process was transparent and well thought through, despite the huge financial investment and time that have gone into it in the last 10 years, optimism of success is also mounting.’’ Recently, the federal government resolved the brewing crisis that was threatening the implementation of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) from analogue television broadcasts in the country.

The National Security Adviser, Major General (rtd) Mohammed Baba Gana Monguno summoned the critical stakeholders in the DSO to a meeting where the contentious issues involved were discussed and resolved. The NSA told the stakeholders that the federal government was determined to uphold its policy on DSO and also ensuring that private investment in the Nigerian economy is not discouraged. The meeting which lasted about three hours witnessed the diplomatic negotiation and consensus building capacity of the NSA that facilitated a resolution of the five year old dispute incessantly interrupting smooth implementation of the DSO, twice missing set deadlines. The federal government policy on DSO was thereby protected from legal interpretation in law courts while also salvaging solid private investment in the nation’s economy and attendant jobs created through the investment from uncertainty and jeopardy.

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