Is Nigeria Ready for Digital Broadcasting?

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Emeka Mba

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There are conflicting signals as to whether Nigeria will meet the deadline to join the rest of the world in the digital switchover on June 17, despite assurances by the National Broadcasting Commission

By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jun 22, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

ON June 17, the world will switch over to digital broadcasting as directed by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU. But there are doubts as to whether Nigeria will meet the deadline set by the ITU to transit from analogue broadcasting to digital? This is due to the conflicting signals from the Nigeria Broadcasting Commission as to the preparedness of the country to meet the deadline.

Going by what is on ground, it appears Nigeria is not ready for the digital switchover. Realnews investigations showed that the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, is facing many challenges ranging from lack of financial power to execute the digital switch over to legal tussle with Pinnacle Communications Limited, one of the licensed signal distributors.

The NBC had on May 19, said that Nigeria could not meet the deadline as earlier planned. Emeka Mba, director general, NBC, at a media briefing in Abuja, to intimate the public on the situation, however, blamed inability to make the switch on failure by the federal government to grant the commission’s request of N60 billion needed to fund the project, adding, it was the major reason why the country could  achieve the digital switchover.

Contrary to is earlier stance, Mba recanted in an interview with the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, on June 10, saying the country would not miss the deadline date. He assured Nigerians that the country was already going digital and that the transition was on-going. “We have currently a digital television penetration of around 22 percent of the total Nigerian TV household.  The major outstanding task is ensuring that the remaining 78 percent of our TV household population of about 20 million homes will have set top boxes for Free to Air television reception before June 17, the analogue switch off deadline. We continue to work with the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON, and other interested stakeholders to ensure that our preparations in terms of content offering, and the digital broadcast infrastructure is in place.  As we get closer to the June deadline the commission shall evaluate the current situation and advice government accordingly,” he said.

According to Mba, the commission is still engaged in high-level discussions with several local and international institutions as regards funding of the digital switch over, especially with regards to the Set top box rebate and distribution, as well as the roll out of infrastructure among others. “Progress is being made, as soon the agreements are concluded the commission shall make this public.”

Similarly, Shehu Gusau, immediate past chairman, ICT Committee of the House of Representatives, told Realnews during the DigitalSENSE Forum Series 2015 in Lagos, that the country is ready to migrate with the rest of the world. He said some states have started migrating and that the rest of the country would follow suit on June 17. He advised the stakeholders in the industry to make sure that the country meets up with the rest of the world.

“We are ready to migrate. The implication of this migration is that the space will occur within the frequency band and Nigeria will make more money from selling these spaces. You are aware the analogue takes a lot of space when it comes to frequency. The migration will free resources for the country and my call is that the stakeholders should work harder so that we will meet up the date. The Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, Jos, has already done its migration. So, I’m saying that it’s possible if we work harder. However, we lack behind because of funding but I’m sure we will not pass this 2015 in the digital switchover,” he said.

Gusau said the rural dwellers have been taking care of because the switchover is a global thing. It is not just about switchover but the transmission will become digital and for course the receiving becomes digital also. In this regard, a little digital box will be distributed to the people where it will be plugged in the television for those that have analogue television to be able to receive digital signals and thereby converting their televisions to digital television.

It appears that Nigeria has no choice than to join the rest of the world as the ITU has insisted that there is no going back on the deadline. The ITU said in a statement that Nigeria and other countries under it must comply with the June 17 switchover as there would not be extension of deadline. Member countries of the ITU include all the countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Houlin Zhao, secretary-general, ITU, said countries around the world are actively working towards the switchover to digital television. Several countries that are parties to the 2006 agreement, as well as many who are not, have already made the transition; others are in the process of doing so. “As the specialised agency of the United Nations dealing with information and communication technologies, including spectrum and satellite orbit issues, ITU will keep supporting the development of new technologies. I congratulate administrations around the world which have successively switched to digital television broadcasting and I also wish all success to those still in the process of doing so,” Zhao said.

Nigeria’s journey towards the digital terrestrial television broadcasting started on June 17, 2006, and was expected to come to an end on June 17, 2015. In 2007, federal government approved the digital migration process, and through the NBC, set deadline of January 1, 2015 as the switch off date for the country. A Presidential Advisory Committee on the transition was also inaugurated in 2008 with the mandate to come up with a recommended policy, regulatory framework and a broadcasting model for the process. The committee submitted its report in 2009, with several recommendations one of which was that the country would switch off its analogue broadcasting on January 1, 2015; only time will tell whether the country can face the sanctions of not switching over.

Digital TV broadcasting offers many advantages over analogue systems for end-users, operators and regulators. Apart from increasing the number of channels, digital systems can provide new innovative services, such as interactive TV, electronic programme guides and mobile TV as well as transmit image and sound in high-definition, HDTV, and ultra-high definition, UHDTV. Digital TV requires less energy to ensure the same coverage as for analogue while decreasing overall costs of transmission. The more efficient use of radio spectrum brought on by digital TV also allows for the so-called digital dividend resulting from the freeing up of spectrum for use by other services, such as mobile broadband.

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