Uganda and Burundi are likely to miss the East African Community 2012 deadline to migrate from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.
This fear is informed by disagreements over the public broadcaster in Uganda being contracted as the signal distributor, as well as lack of legal framework and infrastructural deficiencies in both Uganda and Burundi.
Though Uganda has a digital migration policy, Burundi is still carrying out a feasibility study to come up with one.
Sector regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) director for technology and licensing Patrick Mwesigwa told The EastAfrican that neither UCC nor the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation had the funds to buy masts and other equipment used for signal distribution.
(Read: Uganda MPs halt budget on digital migration)
“We will not be able to achieve the EAC deadline because the government decided to make UBC a sole signal distributor when it does not have the financial and technical capacity to do it in the next few months,” Mr Mwesigwa said.
Mr Mwesigwa said the UCC has also requested the government to review the digital migration policy to allow at least one more signal distributor. Private broadcasters have faulted the choice of UBC, which besides lacking the capacity, is also a competitor.
As for Burundi, at a regional meeting organised by International Telecommunications Union and UCC in Kampala recently, Deo Bizindavyi, the head of the country’s frequency spectrum management service said it cannot beat the EAC deadline because it is still carrying out a feasibility study before coming up with the law.
“We started working on the project late, implying that we cannot beat the deadline,” Mr Bizindavyi said.
The ITU Conference held in Geneva in 2006 set a 2015 deadline for migration to digital broadcasting in Africa, Europe, Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran but the EAC set an earlier deadline of December 2012.
The digital switchover is intended to leapfrog existing technologies to connect underserved and remote communities and close the digital divide. Digital broadcasting offers more channels with high quality signal reception.
In Kenya, TV viewers in Nairobi and its environs are receiving digital broadcasts following the activation of a platform for transmitting digital video broadcasting (DVB-T2) by government signal distributor Signet, while Tanzania and Rwanda are yet to start but are optimistic of switching before December.
Kenya’s Information Minister Samuel Poghisio said at least 70 per cent of the country will access digital content by December, especially when the second signal distributor Pan-African Net Work Group is switched on in August.
(Read: Kenya to beat deadline on digital migration)
It is estimated that about four million analogue TV sets in Kenya will require connection to the new technology.
Kenya started its digital migration journey in 2009, but its uptake has been slow due to government’s ban on DVB-T1 Set-top boxes in favour of DVB-T2 and MPEG-4 as the digital compression standard.
This has meant that besides consumers buying the new devices, licensed digital signal distribution firms have to make their platforms compatible with DVB-T2 technology.
In Uganda, however, the actors are still held back by financial constraints following the decision by the government to decline a $74 million loan from the Export and Import Bank of China in August last year, for which a memorandum of understanding was already signed. The loan was intended to finance the country’s migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Uganda’s other delay was the result of a long period of haggling and indecision over whether to adopt DVB-T1 technology as opposed to DVB-T2. Although both are standard technologies, DVB-T2 allows for up to 20 channels per frequency while the DVB-T1 technology allows only 12 channels per frequency.