Digital Migration may spell TV blackout for Zambia

By Costa Mwansa

Zambia like many other developing countries is racing against time to meet the much-anticipated deadline for migration or transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. Come June, 17th, 2015 Zambia will be plunged into television blackout that will surely affect many viewers or simply the majority of our people. This is simply because millions of viewers will be caught up in a scenario that will see television sets unable to work. This is so because Zambia, in 2006, as a signatory agreed, along with more than 100 other countries in the International Telecoms Union (ITU), to stop transmission of television signals in analogue format and move to new internationally acceptable digital standards. Unlike many African countries, Zambia has not set its domestic target for the transition and subsequently, disaster, manipulation and panic is apparent. It might be a situation of too little, too late for the country whose digital migration prospects are threatened by the lack of clear implementation mode to facilitate the smooth transition owing to an elusive and uncoordinated publicity from all stakeholders to curtail consumer uncertainty, as the deadline draws near.

The International Telecoms Union (ITU) has in no uncertain terms rejected a proposal by some African countries to have the deadline extended further after a lobby by African Union (AU). This came to light at the recently held 8th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the African Union of Broadcasters held in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. This means that impact might be punitive and costly for Zambia and other parts of the continent that seem alien to the digital migration. Ironically, Zambia had even failed to meet the set target by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) deadline of 31st December, 2013 on digital migration but then Permanent Secretary, Amos Malupenga was optimistic that the June, 17th target was to be attained. We must be an ambitious country that believes so much in miracles and not preparations for something we had been fore warned. Mr. Malupenga had also indicated of the partial migration due to financial challenges that year.

The question now is; has that been achieved? Worst still the country has been conducting the dual illumination (Which means the running of analogue and digital side by side) until 2015. Accordingly, SADC roadmap for digital broadcasting migration was that all member countries were supposed to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting on 31st December, 2013. This is a fallacy in my opinion because the country should have switched off the analogue signal earlier than anticipated to prepare the people like Kenya and Tanzania have done despite their teething problems. Yes the struggle has been there but at least something has been achieved especially the outstanding issues. Admittedly, there will be confusion in our country. How will people dispose off their televisions that will not be in conformity with the formats? No one seems to be providing the answers……….. There has been no activity built around the transition or migration stages for Zambia that I am aware of. As technical, as it may sound, this global initiative is a reality and that your television set or mine come June, 17th will have no access or pick digital signal, as they will require a “digital adapter” popularly known, as a decoder or set-top boxe required to service every household. However, distribution for these magic boxes that comes with immense benefits will be challenging to many operators either public or private, as people might be subjected to counterfeit products due to the anxiety around it. The switch over presents with it immense benefits and opportunities for the viewer like you and me in the long term such, as • Digital Television Broadcasting will offer sharper; brighter picture, and reduced interference. Viewers will also enjoy improved sound quality. • More choice: Digital signals take up much less bandwith and therefore more channels can be broadcast. This will facilitate diverse for the Zambian population including the youth, women and farmers among others. • More access: The Set Top Box (STB) which will be used to receive the digital signal also has the capability to interface with devices such as a cell phone, memory card or internet modem. This will provide viewers with access to many more services and information. •

Better viewing pleasure: With analogue you are only able to have standard definition television. With Digital Broadcasting High definition television is possible . High Definition Television is the premium version of digital television, offering picture and sound quality which is much better than today’s analogue television. The reason is that it offers up to twice the vertical and horizontal resolution of a traditional analog (PAL) signal. The higher resolution picture is particularly suited to large screen television displays. This means that the benefits of HDTV are particularly noticeable on larger screen sets and when using projection equipment. HDTV will be in widescreen format and provide cinema-quality viewing with Dolby surround sound

• Electronic Program Guides (EPGs): Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) are a feature of digital television broadcasting that come fitted in the Set Top Box. An Electronic Program Guide (EPGs) can be used by viewers to navigate between channels, identify the currently screening program and the next program (‘now and next’) on each channel. More sophisticated EPGs can be used to set reminders for program viewing, provide a short synopsis of the content of programs, identify programming in advance for several days, search for programs by genre, and provide access to some enhancements among others.

• Better utilization of frequencies: A digital signal carries much more data than an analogue signal. Therefore, more than one channel of television programs can be broadcast at the same time. This is known as multi-channeling. This efficient utilization of channels reduces the number of frequencies required for the broadcasting sector. Can the potential disaster be averted at this late hour, certainly not but something can be done to lessen the impact especially if the government admits the existing shortfalls takes the bull by its horns and moves all out to engage all stakeholders both public and private to join forces and act for the good of the country and its citizens. Television remains a huge platform of information dissemination with great influence on citizens and in this modern day and age the medium cannot be denied to the citizens in a country like Zambia which is building on its democratic credentials. For now let’s wait and see.

Costa Mwansa is a General Manager of Zambia’s privately owned Muvi TV

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