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When will Nigeria sign off digital TV switchover?

Sola Omole

Omole, Chairman BON

Mbah

Mbah, DG NBC

IT is not news that Nigeria failed to meet up with the digital TV transition deadline of June 17, 2015. But the question of when exactly the country’s digitization process, which officially began in 2007, will be finalized is yet to get a definite answer.

On June 16, 2006, a treaty agreement was signed at the conclusion of the Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06) of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva, heralding the development of ‘all-digital’ terrestrial broadcast services for sound and television.

The treaty mandated the digitization of broadcasting in Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran by a target date of June 17, 2015.

The deadline clocked last Wednesday and Nigeria was among other 52 countries in the continent of Africa that couldn’t complete the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.

On May 13, 2015 when the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) announced, officially, the inability of the country to activate the digital switchover as mandated by the ITU, the Director-General of the airwaves regulatory agency, Mr. Emeka Mba had informed that a proposal of 18 months extension to rap up the process had been presented to the Information Ministry for approval.

But at the international symposium on digital switchover held at the ITU Headquarters in Geneva last Wednesday, the gathering was told of the possibility of the switchover in Nigeria by June 17, 2016.

Presenting a paper entitled, The Nigerian Transition, former DG of NBC, Mr. Yomi Bolarinwa, an engineer said, “Nigerian plan for the transition after the RRC06 was good enough to enable it switchover by 2012, but circumstances made it impossible. However from steps taken so far, it is obvious that with massive injection of set top boxes into the system the switchover is possible by June 17, 2016,” meaning a 12-month extension.

On the same day (Wednesday, June 17, 2015), the NBC issued a statement reinforcing the proposal of 18 months extension.

Signed by the agency’s Head of Public Affairs, Mallam Awwalu Salihu, the statement reads, “Today, June 17, 2015 is the deadline for the Region One of the International Telecommunications Union, ITU, to complete the implementation of their transition programmes from analogue to digital terrestrial television. Nigeria belongs in this region.

“As the ITU holds an international symposium on that date at its headquarters in Geneva, to take stock of the digital switchover worldwide, Nigeria will be among 52 other African countries that will not meet the deadline.

“It is noteworthy that the main penalty Nigeria will face consequently is that analogue signals will receive no protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from our neighbours, most of who are also unable to transit to digital.

“The National Broadcasting Commission wishes to assure Nigerians, however, that disappointing as this may be, it was not without a fairly good shot at success. The Commission has worked actively since 2006 to put all the building blocks of the transition in place.

The journey would have been completed if funding had been available. It is important however to state that the journey towards Digital Terrestrial Television has already started.

At the moment Nigeria has reached about 20 per cent penetration of the 26 million TV households (TVHH) in the country. “The Commission has worked with DigiTeam Nigeria to harmonise the minimum standards for Set-top-boxes and the transmission standards for all member states of the ECOWAS.

We have also completed the frequency re-planning and have successfully done the coordination with our neighbours and we have selected a second Signal distributor, in addition to the default independent distributor to come out of the NTA.

“We have licensed a Freeview signals aggregator; we have selected 11 successful companies to manufacture set-top boxes in Nigeria and we have put in place the framework for the largest Freeview platform in the world.

We have also put in place an EPG/STB control system to protect the investment of the local Set-top-box manufacturers. Our goal is to enable the evolution of a digital television ecosystem that not only transforms television, and broadcasting in general but also able to help bridge the digital divide, create jobs and grow our national economy.

“The Commission wishes to further assure Nigerians that we will only switch off analogue signals when majority of Nigerians can receive digital signals.

As soon as funds are available, the Commission will, within 18 months conclude the final stages to the DSO which include the acquisition and local production of the Set-top-boxes, relocation of MMDS operators, buy-back of obsolete analogue transmitters and massive publicity.

“The NBC thanks all stakeholders for their cooperation in this arduous journey, and appeals for understanding from all Nigerians as we do all within our power to successfully take Nigerian broadcasting onto the digital ecosystem.”

Apart from the difference in the date of completing the switchover process (12months versus 18 months), all the issues raised in the NBC statement tallies with the points marshaled by Bolarinwa in his presentation at Geneva outing.

Tagged A milestone for Digital Terrestrial Television, the international symposium which drew the participation of all ITU membership including Member States, Sector Members, Associates, Academia, was designed to review the digitization since 2006 when the treaty came into force.

It grew from the understanding that the deadline of June 17, 2015 would represent “a major milestone towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centred Information Society connecting the unconnected in underserved and remote communities and closing the digital divide.”

In the reckoning of the global body, “the new digital GE06 Plan provides not only new possibilities for structured development of digital terrestrial broadcasting but also sufficient flexibilities for adaptation to the changing telecommunication environment. The GE06 Agreement triggered the analogue to digital broadcasting switchover world-wide.”

It was expected that the symposium would provide background information on the GE06 Agreement, on the actual situation with respect to the analogue to digital switchover world-wide and on the potential future use of digital TV by the broadcasters in all three ITU Regions, taking into account new television systems such as HDTV and UHDTV on one hand and the allocation of the UHF band to other services known as a “digital dividend” on the other hand.

In addition to technical demonstrations, high-level round table discussion as well as honouring the contribution of outstanding persons to the Geneva 2006 Agreement, some of the issues tackled during the symposium included Objectives of the transition to digital TV– technical and regulatory frameworks; The Analog to Digital Switchover – stocktaking worldwide; Advanced Technologies for Television; and Building a sustainable ecosystem for Digital TV.

Regarded as an excellent opportunity for dialogues among multi-stakeholders in public and private sectors, the symposium also featured a small exhibition to showcase innovative products and services of ITU members in the TV industry.

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