Published On: Thu, Jun 29th, 2017

Nigeria Digitization Journey: The Journey So Far

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By Oke Emmanuel
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. This maxim is very common in Africa; it’s mouthed by the day and almost everywhere through all ranks, age brackets and economic levels of the society, but this maxim does not appear to have been taken to heart in the country’s drive towards achieving digitization with the rest of the world.

 

Indeed, when representatives from the 193 Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) met in Geneva, Switzerland in June 2006. On the 17th of that month, a statement was issued, resulting to a historic treaty signed by members and would usher in a wave of digital broadcasting for 119 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia – to begin with – 2015, which was set as the terminal or deadline date, seemed too far off.

However, all of that long time seems so short for many countries that fall in the region marked for the first phase of the digital switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting as signed by all member countries of the ITU on June 17, 2006; but for those who prepared very well and have since achieved the migration, it was time well utilised.

For countries that failed to meet the deadline – like students who have ill-prepared for an examination always find the time given for the paper too short, or the time appearing to have speed past too fast, those who did their homework well, often smile to the invigilator – so those countries in the Region 1 for the digital migration are now feeling: those who made it are wondering if twelve years was not too long a time, whereas those who could not make it wonder if indeed, twelve years have speed passed by – so soon.

The Digital Switchover Over (DSO), the analogue switch-off (ASO) or the analogue shutdown, ultimately encompasses process in which analogue television broadcast is converted to and replaced by digital television. The process primarily involves the conversion of analogue terrestrial television to digital. However, it also involves analogue cable conversion to digital cable as well as analog to digital satellite television.

Basically, after the switch from analogue to digital broadcasts is complete, analogue TVs will be incapable of receiving over-the-air broadcasts without the addition of a set-top converter box.

Consequently, a digital converter box – an electronic device that connects to an analogue television – must be used in order to receive digital broadcasts. In most climes, the government subsidizes the purchase of such boxes for their citizens.

Since 2008, it has not been an easy journey for Nigeria leading the Digital Switch On for Terrestrial television. Several efforts were made to realise the migration without success.  Nigeria had to move the date from 2015 to June 2017, but with the prevailing circumstances and lack of commitment on the part of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) it will be a miracle if the date is realized fully.

History was made on April 30, 2016, in Jos, the Plateau State capital when the federal government launched the pilot phase of the digital transmission project that kick started the digitisation process in the country, transiting from analogue to digital television in the city which has always been a hot spot in the country’s broadcasting history.

DSO has so far being launched in two states of the federation, the Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed launched the pilot phase in Jos, while President Muhammadu Buhari anchored the Abuja launch in December.

Speaking during the switched on ceremony in Abuja, President Buhari who was represented by Vice President Osinbajo disclosed that the local industry is already experiencing a boost from the new vista in digital economy, with several indigenous companies now manufacturing Set-Top-Boxes as he was told that many of the set-top-boxes we are using for this Abuja switchover are produced in Nigeria.

Prof Osinbajo explained that the significance of the event cannot be lost on the world as the digital switchover becomes a reality in the capital city of Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

He said digitization will create jobs in the area of content and software development; provide the platform for film producers and musicians to release their productions directly to households which will of course substantially cut off piracy.

‘’Even if only for the huge local and international opportunities for Broadcast, media, ICT, entertainment and education, we are right to say that we stand at the threshold of exciting times for job creation, entertainment and in general, local and international commerce.

‘’The successful launch of the pilot scheme in Jos in April has clearly demonstrated the gains of Digital Switch Over. I am told that viewers in the pilot are able to enjoy 15 free channels covering news, sports, music and business,’’ he said.

Osinbajo lauded the signal distributor for the Abuja switchover for investing considerably in transmission services that would broadcast 30 channels in the first phase. He reiterated the government’s commitment to strong partnerships with the private sector, adding that Nigerian artistes and entrepreneurs in music, entertainment and filmmaking would be important pillars in the nation’s diversification plans.

‘’Let me restate for emphasis that this government is irreversibly committed to meeting the June 2017 deadline for the switchover in the West African sub-region and also to the roll-out of the DSO in all the states of the federation,’’ he said.

Lauding all stakeholders in the digitization process the Vice President appealed to all state and local governments to be actively involved in the project because of the obvious advantages to our people.

“Digitisation will create jobs in the area of content and software development; provide the platform for film producers and musicians to release their productions directly to households. This will, of course, substantially cut off piracy,” he said.
The Vice President also poured encomiums on the indigenous companies manufacturing set-top boxes, and welcomed residents of the FCT to the world of digital broadcasting.

Alhaji Mohammed, while enumerating the advantages of digital broadcasting, disclosed that over 26,000 direct jobs would be created in the manufacture set-top boxes. He stressed that the set-top box assembling and ultimately manufacturing process in Nigeria was an irreversible mandate by government to the industry, adding that the expectation was for this to extend quickly to local smart TV and tablet manufacturing.

‘’Aside from growing the TV advertising market by $400 million annually through audience measurement, the minister stated that digital switchover would also create a N100 billion per annum FreeTV distribution network for Nollywood,’’ he said.

Director-general of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Malam Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, in setting the tempo for the ceremony, said the switch-over would assist in deepening the democratic process in Nigeria. He disclosed that the NBC would create a Digital Access Fund where the N1, 000 annual TV licence fee paid by each TV owner would be deposited.

Just recently, Modibbo-Kawu, disclosed that the commission is set to roll out DSO in the six geopolitical zones simultaneously.

He made this known in a communiqué issued at the end of one-day Broadcast Stakeholders meeting held in Abuja, where he listed the state in each of the zones to includes, Kaduna in the North-West, Kwara representing North-Central, Gombe in North-East, Enugu, South-East, Osun for South-West and Delta for the South-South.

The DG said that 70 per cent of contents in the DSO are local contents, assuring that the collection of TV and Radio License fee would be gathered together to support content production.

However, despite the feat achieved so far by the federal government, fresh facts have emerged that the June 2017 deadline for the DSO of broadcast signals in Nigeria might not be achieved by the federal government due technical hitches.

This is even as the resident noticed a sudden switch off in transmission from the signal transmitters for over three months now in Abuja after it was officially launched. Apart from the fact that there is consistent slow progress in capturing patronage of the Abuja population of the DSO due to inadequate distribution of the set-top boxes, relevant partners in the DSO are still owed huge sums, findings revealed.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has however declined to comment on this development.

Also blind spot has been identified as an impediment to achieve a total switch on for the federal capital territory. A process whereby booster transmitter is needed to achieve a total switched on for the city’s blind spot. Kawu however assured that efforts are on ground to station the booster transmitter.

Further investigation revealed that while Pinnacle Communication has already commenced work on the Kaduna DSO, they are still awaiting settlement of its overdue bills.

Our source who pleaded anonymity however explained that the non-payment of monies to Pinnacle Communication “will certainly lead to a break in transmission very soon if not resolved.”

It would be recalled that the DSO has been mired in a series of disputes and financial scams including the rushed award of contracts to set top box manufacturers in violation of procurement due process and TSA regulations for which the EFCC is prosecuting the former DG of NBC, Emeke Mba and others.

It is pertinent to state that digital TV broadcasting offers many advantages over analogue systems for end-users, operators and regulators. Apart from increasing the number of programmes, digital systems have capacity to provide new innovative services, such as interactive TV, electronic programme guides and mobile TV as well as transmit image and sound in high-definition (HDTV) and ultra-high definition (UHDTV). Digital TV requires less energy to ensure the same coverage as for analogue while decreasing overall costs of transmission.

The value of digital terrestrial broadcasting to the broadcasting industry should not be underestimated, as it enables the use of better transmission standards and the delivery of a greater range of services, which consumers are likely to value and which will generate medium to long term benefit for the broadcasting industry.

The move to digital broadcasting is a complex and potentially long process, which directly involves many stakeholders. These include government, policy makers, regulators, broadcasters and consumers, hence all hands must be on deck to achieve this.

DSO also impinges on many other industry players, such as content providers, service providers, network operators, receiver manufacturers and equipment vendors. Practically, digital switchover only works if government takes the lead; there have to be clear legislation, regulation and an overall coordination body in place. A functioning supply chain is also crucial for a smooth DSO process, without this it is not possible to ensure that consumers have access to new receiver equipment at the right time.

Digital broadcasting however enables more services to be offered but this is only of benefit if the content is there the right content to attract viewers and enough of it to use the capacity/capability DTT offers. In most part of the world this was especially true for commercial broadcasters who need advertising revenue on their platforms. Adequate funding across the supply chain is also very important to ensure success.

On funding for the projects, the Federal Government had last year approved the sale of spectrum to kick-start the process which was about 25 percent of the sales, therefore it may not be out of place if Government raises more funds from the sale of the remaining or part of the 75 percent of the spectrum while pursuing the option of local and the state Governments financing the purchase of the STBs should be pursued with more interest.

However, if the federal government delays further, the 2017 switch off date will certainly be impossible and if plans by neighbouring countries to roll out will further put Nigeria in a very tight corner and serious risk due to the jamming of stations and no signal associated with such realities based on the fact that it is an ITU regulated protocol.


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