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‘Digital migration delay hurts Kenya’s leading ICT reputation’

By , Editor, ITWeb Africa
Kenya , 17 Mar 2014

‘Digital migration delay hurts Kenya’s leading ICT reputation’

Kenya risks falling behind its East African neighbours regarding its delayed digital migration efforts and could harm its reputation as a telecommunications leader in the region.

This is according to East Africa analyst for research firm Informa Telecoms & Media, Danson Njue.

A court battle between broadcasters Nation Media Group (NMG), Standard Group and Royal Media Services and the Communication Authority of Kenya (CAK) has stalled Kenya’s digital migration efforts.

Processes to switch the country over to a digital signal have been delayed because the three broadcasters want to be issued with a third signal distribution licence before the migration can be implemented. The next court date on the matter is planned for 28 March.

Consumer bodies in Kenya have also piled pressure on Kenya’s government to heavily subsidise set top boxes amid allegations that the devices may be too expensive for the majority of Kenyans, who are low income earners according to the World Bank.

An Ipsos Synovate survey released last week also said that 71% of Kenyans do not own a set-top box, although 79% are aware of an impending switch-over. High costs of set-top boxes were cited as a key reason for a lack of readiness among Kenyans.

Despite Kenya’s stalled digital migration efforts, the country has gained a reputation for being a leading innovator on the continent with its technology incubators and the success of its mobile money market.

“At some point we thought that Kenya had been the pioneer in the region,” Njue told ITWeb Africa.

“I’m sure that if the problem is not reversed in time, we’ll see even Rwanda and the other East African countries starting the process even before Kenya,” Njue added.

Rwanda has set a July 31, 2014 deadline for its digital migration efforts, in a bid to beat the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) final June 2015 switch-over date.

Neighbouring countries such as Tanzania have also switched onto digital signals, albeit by controversially cutting off analogue users.

Meanwhile, ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun Toure, speaking on a visit to Kenya, said the telecommunications organisation is not extending its June 2015 digital migration deadline.

"We knew it was doable when we set the migration deadline in 2005. The benefits of the migration exercise to both consumers as well as broadcasters are also enormous," said Toure.

And Njue has told ITWeb Africa that the ITU should not budge on the deadline.

“We can’t blame the ITU, because they gave enough time,” Njue said.

“In my opinion, the problem is just an internal problem, because we’ve been seeing a lot of court action,” Njue added.

Njue further stressed that digital migration delay is stalling opening up frequency to telecom providers for greater broadband provision.

But Kenya is not the only big African market struggling to meet the ITU’s digital migration deadline.

South Africa’s most widely read Sunday newspaper, The Sunday Times, carried a full page advert from pay-TV provider MultiChoice, the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (Namec) and the Association of Community Television South Africa (ACT-SA) that hit out at the country’s communications minister Yunus Carrim for a government policy on the use of encryption technology in digital set-top boxes.

The advert, though, carried undertones of a spat between MultiChoice and local broadcaster eTV, in which the latter has accused the pay-TV provider of intending to push for unencrypted boxes so that it can use free-to-air broadcasters (such as eTV and SABC) to help boost sales of an ‘M-Net’ set-top box.

Carrim; though, hit back at the advert, accusing MultiChoice of being a “monopoly”.

South Africa’s digital migration efforts have been delayed by years after government initially planned to kick-start the process in 2008.

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