Gentlemen of the media, we are here to address the critical media communication related issue of digital switch over which the National Broadcasting Commission has commenced in phases. In Abuja, the federal government recently switched on digital television broadcasting signaling the gradual discontinuation of analogue broadcasting. Though the Abuja switch came months after it was done in Jos, Plateau State.
What is Digital Switch Over?
According to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC). Digital Switch Over (DSO) is the name given to the process of changing from analogue to digital TV broadcasting. The digital television transition or analogue switch-off (ASO) is also the process in which analogue television broadcasting is converted to and replaced by digital television.
How does it benefit me?
Digital broadcast means that consumers can enjoy a wider variety of shows on multiple channels with a better quality of broadcast. It also facilitates reduced power and energy consumption, and spectrum efficiency which brings a host of associated benefits for consumers and broadcasters. For instance, in Abuja, TV viewers will be able to enjoy 30 channels unlike the limited number of channels offered by analogue TV.
Many people today will be familiar with analogue broadcasting-having a restricted choice of programming due to limited space for channels; having to tune the TV to your region to ensure that you could pick up broadcasts; having to play with the antennae to get a smooth, uninterrupted signal. But digital TV has changed all that.
The digital dividend will be used by the telecom industry players, thereby giving ore internet access to the people, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Also, broadcast transmissions involve many players in the chain-content producers, chain programmers, point-to-point links (such as between the studio and the transmitter station), manufacturers and end users. All of them will benefit immensely from the DSO.
Nigeria expected to switch of analogue TV by June
The ITU gave Nigeria up to June, 2017 to switch from analogue broadcasting to Digital to free up some spectrum for telecoms use. If Nigeria meets the deadline, it means the country will cease to broadcast analogue TV.
Set top box
This is a box-shaped device that converts a digital television signal to analogue for viewing on a conventional set, or that enables cable or satellite television to be viewed. Television owners will be required to get set top boxes to receive digital signals. The government subsidized set top boxes are being sold across markets and shops at N1,500. But TV viewers will pay N1000 annually for TV license fee, which would be put inside a fund for the use of the industry and Nigerians. Also, those with low signals in their areas will need external antennas that will give them clear signals.
The 30 channels operators on the Abuja Rollout have been trained and sensitized on the management of the channels, according to NBC. Viewers can reach out to NBC call centre operators and receive services or have their boxes activated. The Federal Government has said over 30 million TV set top boxes were being locally-made to give more Nigerians opportunity to own the device.
Edward Idris Amana, Chairman of Digiteam, a body of stakeholders set up by the Nigerian government to coordinate the digital switchover in the broadcasting industry said it is expected to be completed by June 2017. He hinted this in presenting Nigeria’s progress report recently. He added that the signal distributors are now in place while a total of 13 companies for the manufacturing of set top boxes have been approved.
“As of today, the set top box manufacturers have set up assembling plants in Calabar, Port-Harcourt and in Lagos,” adding that “each plant will be employing a minimum of 2000 personnel directly”. Amana said, adding that the transition was not only to move the existing analogue stations into the digital platform, but also involves the transformation of the quality of the existing stations and better viewer benefits.
After Abuja, six states to follow
NBC said the next moves is to simultaneously switch on six states, each drawn from the geopolitical zones of the country. It would engage the Nigerian Governors Forum in the next phase of digitalization process.
PREAMBLE OF F.G’S WHITE PAPER
The transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting in Nigeria is a part of a global initiative driven by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The Geneva 2006 Agreement had set 17th June, 2015 for UHF and 17th June, 2020 for VHF as the dates after which countries may use those frequencies currently assigned for analogue television transmission for digital services, without being required to protect the analogue services of neighboring countries against interference. These dates are generally viewed as an internationally mandated analogue switch-off dates, at least along national borders.
2. Consequently, in 2007, late President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua approved the transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria, effective from 17th June, 2012, in line with the ITU resolution. On 13th October, 2008 the then President inaugurated the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting in Nigeria, with the following Terms of Reference:
i. Recommend a policy on digital terrestrial broadcast transition using global best practices.
ii. Recommend appropriate regulatory framework.
iii. Recommend a National Broadcasting Model.
iv. Assess the impact of the digitization on the consumers and recommend possible government intervention.
v. Determine the quantum of expected digital dividend.
vi. Assess environmental impact of digitization, if any, and recommend steps to be taken.
vii. Advise government on any action relevant to smooth transition in Nigeria.
9.0 Adoption of a New Policy arid Regulatory Framework in the Broadcasting Sector (2.1, p 5).
9.1 Consequent upon the establishment of the PAC, the Committee elaborated a new policy and regulatory framework with far reaching consequences for the positive development of the broadcast sector in Nigeria, taking into account international best practices in general, and local conditions in particular. In order to establish a solid foundation for the implementation of the transition programme, the Committee recommends that the Federal Government adopts the proposed framework as well as the strategy for the successful implementation of the transition, the main components of which are described below,
Government accepts the recommendation for the formulation of a new policy and regulatory framework in the Broadcasting Sector.
10.0. Splitting of Broadcasting Services into Broadcast Content Provision and Broadcasting Signal Distribution (2.2, pp 5-6).
10.1. To maximize the utilization of the broadcast infrastructure and improve on the quality of content creation, the Committee recommends that a new broadcast model, which separates the functions of the Broadcast Content Provider, and the Broadcasting Signal Distributor, be adopted.
11.0. Single vs Multiple Broadcasting Signal Distributors (2.3, pp J 6-7).
The Committee notes that there are three basic options of licensing signal distributors, namely:
i. each broadcaster implements its own signal distribution network as is currently the case, thus creating a multiple broadcasting signal distribution regime;
ii. a number of multiplex operators are licensed, each of which will provide the broadcasting signal distribution for a limited number of broadcasters; and
iii. a single broadcasting signal distributor is licensed to provide the signal distribution network for all broadcasters in the country.
Government notes the three listed basic options of licensing signal distributors.
11.2. For economic, commercial and security reasons, the Committee recommends that the Government should approve the establishment of a single Broadcasting Signal Distributor which will serve the function of a multiplex operator, with the proviso that the regulator at the appropriate time will evaluate the market and take a decision as to when and how other Broadcasting Signal Distributors may be licensed.
Government notes the three (3) options, accepts the recommendation to establish a single Broadcasting Signal Distributor for a transitional period of three (3) years, and :
a. approved that more than one signal distributor be licensed in addition to the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), the public licensed signal distributor; another signal distributor should be licensed immediately while others could come on stream as market exigencies dictates ;
11.3. The Committee recommends that the operations of the Broadcast Signal Distributor should not have political, religious or ethnic bias and should be strictly monitored by the regulator, and that other existing technical regulations applicable to the present broadcasters as appropriate should be binding on the Broadcasting Signal Distributor.
Government accepts this recommendation
12.0. Backbone of the Broadcasting Signal Distributor (2.4, p 7).
12.1. The Committee recommends that it would be most efficient if the infrastructure of the Broadcasting Signal Distributor should be established as soon as possible and at the least cost.
12.2. In order to maximize the existing broadcast infrastructure, the Committee recommends that the existing and massive broadcast transmission infrastructure owned by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA). The Voice of Nigeria (VON) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) in the country should form the backbone for the new Broadcasting Signal Distributor, which must be able to absorb the transmission infrastructure of other existing broadcasting stations.
Government accepts this recommendation and approved that the satellite signal distribution infrastructure of Nigcomsat should be excluded from the arrangement, so as to maximize the benefits and profitability of the country’s satellite resources.
Government further agreed that Nigcomsat’s resources be available to all signal distributors on a commercial basis rather than being exclusively subsumed as part of the infrastructure of one of the signal distributors.
Government agreed not to limit satellite signal distribution infrastructure to Nigcomsat alone, but to include others, such as NTA, VON and FRCN.
13.0. Ownership Structure of the Broadcasting Signal Distributor (2.5, pp 7-8).
13.1. In the light of the need to establish the Broadcasting Signal Distributor expediently, efficiently and reliably, the Committee considered three options of ownership structure as follows –
i. Option A: (Public/Private Sector Partnership) which provides for the establishment of a new Broadcasting Signal Distributor in which the Federal Government will own a majority stake (a minimum of 51% stake); the equity participation of the private sector portion of this new signal distributor should be offered through a bid process; this option will allow a buy-in for all the industry stakeholders and also give government a controlling influence to ensure neutrality in the operations of this distributor ;
ii. Option B: which provides for establishing a Broadcasting Signal Distributor that is wholly owned by the Federal Government but commercially operated; this option takes advantage of the huge investments government has made over the years in both the NTA, FRCN, and Voice of Nigeria; and
iii. Option C: which provides establishing a Broadcasting Signal Distributor that 100% privately owned; the option will promote further deregulation in the industry and inject substantial private sector funds into the industry.
Government notes the three (3) options of ownership structure and accepts recommendations (i) and (ii) above, but for a transitional period of three (3) years.
13.2. The Committee recommends that –
i. The Broadcasting Signal Distributor should be wholly owned by the Federal Government and operated on a commercial basis;
ii. Seed grant should be provided by the Federal Government for the Broadcasting Signal Distributor for the establishment of the new company and acquisition of all digitally compliant broadcast equipment, and for human capital development.
Government accepts this recommendation, but for a transitional period of three (3) years
As committed civil society practitioners, we are worried about the opaque nature of information dissemination form relevant government agency with specific reference to the National Broadcasting Commission which has yet to inform Nigerians on the whole truth regarding the alleged N2.5 billion it gave to one of the signal distributors which is a private-sector owned establishment.
Allegations and counter-allegations of unpreparedness, favoritism, nepotism and embezzlement of taxpayers’ money by industry players have also flared up. Twice, Nigeria missed the digital switch-over (DSO) deadline.
Stakeholders in the broadcast industry believe that Nigeria would have gone far by now, if some of the ripples had been avoided because the country has missed two deadlines for switch-over, which have been rationalized by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as normal teething problems whereas billions of taxpayers’ money to the tune of N2.5 billion is allegedly being used to fund a private company, which by contractual agreements should be paying the federal government.
We have resolved to send a freedom of information request to the hierarchy of NBC to demand unambiguous response in writing to provide evidence – satisfactory reason regarding the alleged grant of such a humongous sum to a private enterprise and under what modality. We will seek clarification to know the status of the grant if any and if we are not satisfied we will proceed to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to demand forensic investigation of this damaging allegation.
We got the information from very senior insiders working for government that indeed the sum of N2.5 Billion of public fund was gifted to a private signal distributor.
Our worry stems from the missteps committed by the government in the power sector in which the DISCOS were gifted with billions of Naira of tax payers’ money but till date Nigerian electricity consumers are groaning under poor power supply. Recently NERC fined one of the DISCOS the sum of N50 million for failure to comply with operational standards.
We are also aware of ongoing campaign of calumny targeted at the government owned integrated television service (ITS) – one of the two signal distributors of the Digital Switch Over.
We are aware that a fifth columnist working to destabilize the Digital Switch Over as is being revolutionized by ITS has gone to the media to cast aspersions on the integrity and authenticity of the state of infrastructures installed by the ITS which is owned by NTA. NTA as you know belongs to the Nigerian public. Our duty as patriotic human rights defenders is to provide interventions whenever we think there are subterranean plots to undermine the success of any publicly owned enterprises as part of our statutory mandate as human rights defenders.
We are aware that some of these wild allegations are being bandied to discredit the credibility of the resilient works of the government owned ITS just so that the sponsors of these campaign of calumny could scoop more free government money for themselves at the detriment of the masses.
Contrary to their claims that the NTA owned (ITS) installed transmitters have been discontinued by the original equipment manufacturers, we have extensively used
our international network to verify that broadcast technology is very dynamic but there are opportunities for backward integration. DVB – T2 technology (which ITS uses) is reportedly commercialized in 2008. They were bought as DVB – T2 and not DVB – T as alleged by those who are waging a well-oiled campaign against this government owned ITS.
We have learnt that the transmitters in use by ITS in Jos, Ilorin, Osogbo and Enugu are custom built DVB – T2 by Rhode & Schwarz. ITS have back up transmitters and signal processing equipment which can be deployed real time in case of failures. We therefore urged President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the pronouncements as encompassed in the government’s white paper are implemented to the letter so the broadcasting/communication rights of Nigerians are not undermined by fifth columnists.
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko;
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).