Minister for Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful has told the B&FT that government has suspended the process to switch from analog to digital terrestrial television (DTT) system due to measures the state has put in place to fight COVID-19.
The process which was near completion this year had to be suspended due to procurement challenges as a result of the partial lockdown of Greater Accra, Kasoa and Greater Kumasi. “The DTT has caught up with the lockdown issues because there is some procurement that we need to do that are stuck at public procurement authority,” Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful said.
The minister said this after the Ministry of Information’s brief on the state of COVID-19 in the country and the effectiveness of measures being deployed to fight the outbreak of the disease. She had early this year, briefed stakeholders that, a Headend at Kanda and 42 transmission sites nationwide had been completed and all connected to the National Electricity Grid.
She also added that a Central Digital Transmission Company (CDTC) had been established to facilitate the smooth interaction between broadcasters and the platform operator, stressing that the mandate of CDTC would be to manage and operate the infrastructure, which would offer transmission services to broadcasters and not to control the content provided by broadcasters (i.e. Channels) to be transmitted.
Coverage measurement on the signal quality of the DTT network infrastructure showed a current population coverage of almost 90 percent, with broadcasting signals.
Stakeholders were also informed that a DTT policy has been introduced to provide an effective and efficient collection of TV licenses through the use of technology. This would ensure revenue generated is used to sustain the public broadcaster, the DTT infrastructure and facilitate local content development.
The introduction of a Digital Access Fee (DAF), however, will require all citizens to acquire new digital Set-Top Boxes (STBs), which are compatible with the National Communication Authority’s (NCA) recently published standards.
Expansion of emergency spectrum
The minister said the country was expecting to increase its emergency spectrum after the completion of the DTT switch. She explained that the telecommunication sector has been put under some stress as the partial lockdown has seen data use increase by some 40 percent. As a result, government has provided some free spectrum to MTN and Vodafone to help them expand their capacity and provided better internet services to customers.
The minister says government hopes that the free spectrum can translate to the provision of less costly data to consumers.
“Those are discussions we are having with them [telcos] currently. Their fear is that if we make it easier for people to browse, the entire network will collapse and so they are a bit reluctant to either reduce the prices or provide more capacity.
What they are trying to do is that the more popular sites that people would need to visit for information on COVID-19 will be made free. Also, online channels that our children go to study has been zero rated, meaning you pay nothing if you visit such sites,” the minister said.
She further explained that, there is pressure on telecommunication networks and therefore more education is needed to sensitize the public on efficient data use.
“We have all seen how critical internet is during this time. Already they are under pressure, therefore, citizens must do well to use data efficiently and wisely so that there will be enough available for very critical services. We have to look at other means of working and entertainment other than downloading large movies and applications which would take a toll on national data supply.”