Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshaveni says the Free State has become the first South African province to switch off its analogue television transmitters completely.
That means that residents in the province now require a digital set-top box (digital decoder) or a TV with digital terrestrial television (DTT) tuner to get free-to-air broadcasting.
“We have managed to conclude analogue switch-off in the Free State province at the end of October, in accordance with the plan,” Ntshaveni said.
The minister added that no viewers had complained that they did not have access to TV broadcasts after the switch-off, suggesting that all could access digital broadcasts.
“I am very happy there were no blackouts of any household,” the minister stated.
In addition, the department plans to complete the switch-off of the last SABC analogue site in the Northern Cape by 26 November 2021.
“We are also on track to conclude the North West switch-off in line with the programme that we shared with you.”
Ntshaveni said the current plan was to switch off all SABC transmitter sites by 31 January 2022.
To date, Sentech has switched off 113 of the SABC’s 288 sites since the process started in March 2021 — 40% of the total. That means that eight transmitters have been switched off since 5 October 2021.
Sentech had already switched off MultiChoice’s 84 analogue sites last month, in addition to 4 of 95 E-tv sites.
The latter has remained the same since the previous address by the minister on the digital migration process.
That comes as E-tv has threatened legal action over the planned switch-off timeline as it fears that many households, and many of its own viewers, would be cut off from TV broadcasts.
Ntshaveni said a total analogue switch-off date would be given at a later stage, but that the department was still targeting 31 March 2022, as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his SONA speech in February 2021.
Ntshaveni added that the government has ramped up DTT installer capacity in the past month.
“Sentech’s installer capacity for the remaining provinces has been created, and this will intensify installations in the following months,” she stated.
“In Limpopo and Mpumalanga, we are fully ramped up, and we are on track [with the plan] as well.”
“We are commencing with Gauteng, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape in terms of the installations,” she added.
Ntshaveni also addressed concerns that some viewers without digital decoders or TVs without digital tuners would be left without access to free-to-air broadcasts, given the slow uptake in sign-ups for subsidised set-top boxes (STBs).
Stats SA’s non-financial census on municipalities report found there were an estimated 2.9 million households in the country.
By the end of October, the government had registered 1,228,879 indigent households who qualify for the boxes.
Of the households who had registered, 572,255 of the qualifying households had been migrated.
Ntshaveni said there were two reasons why the numbers were not going up to expected levels.
“11 million South Africans are already watching TV through satellite, and others are watching TV through DTT-compliant TV sets,” she stated.
Ntshaveni also said the department found that most indigent households who had qualified for STBs already had DTT-compliant televisions, which would only require an aerial to access digital TV.
“This digital migration is not starting today. The message has gone across,” she said.
Ntshaveni further emphasised that the government had received assurances from STB manufacturers that they had sufficient capacity to satisfy the digital decoder demand in South Africa.
Indigent households with a combined income of R3,500 or less per month can register for a free STB at their nearest post office.
The minister reiterated the call to non-indigent households that don’t qualify for a free STB to buy a TV with a digital tuner or an STB that can receive digital or satellite signals.
DTT boxes start at R799 with an antenna included on Takealot. Alternatively, households can buy an Openview or DStv decoder.