OPINION: As Nigeria Struggles for Digital Switch Over

The Digital Switch Over (DSO) process that was expected to end by 2015 got an extension of five years (2020) but as we write Nigeria is unable to conclude anything tangible in this direction.

Only six states have partially implemented it while other 30 states including the Federal Capital Territory are struggling to actualise the process.

Approved by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), at the ITU Regional Radiocommunication Conference (RRC-06), DSO, in 2006, specifically for the migration of analogue signals to digital broadcasting, and was projected to end in June 2015 but extended to 2020, but unfortunately some of the ITU Region 1 countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa where Nigeria belongs are unable to meet up with its implementation and obligations.
While other countries on this belt are striving to create an enabling environment for the implementation of DSO, Nigeria situation has been laced with political constraints where a former Minister allegedly hijacked the process from the National Broadcasting Commission (regulator) and centralized the implementation in his office, with a firm hold on who and what must be done including who gets which contracts and which terms there to.

President Goodluck Jonathan set up a high-powered committee to work with the NBC and the Information and Culture Ministry to implement this DSO agenda enshrined in the ITU document and the committee,s work was truncated when Jonathan lost his re-election

One expected the new government to pick up the implementation from there but what happened was bizarre as the new Information Minister hijacked the process and warehoused everything on this project in his office. Set up boxes and other infrastructure that were needed to implement the DSO were only possible if his Eminence,the Minister approved. The National Broadcasting Commission(NBC)and critical stakeholders were sidelined.

Industry stakeholders got frustrated and looked elsewhere while the Minister had a field day awarding contracts for set-up boxes among others at the expense of the laid down procedures for implementing DSO.

We have no track of the set-up boxes or other infrastructure, so a possible review of the process may not be out of place by this government.

DSO refers to the process of transitioning from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The Nigerian government launched the DSO project in 2008 as part of efforts to improve the quality and quantity of television programming, increase access to television services, and free up spectrum for other uses.

“Nigeria is not listed among the countries doing well in the DSO implementation. And we are not. That also means the country is yet to reap the benefits of a successful migration process. And we need the money”according to a communications analyst based in Abuja.

Countries doing well in DSO in Sub-Saharan Africa include Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda which were among the first to switch over.

“These countries surmounted numerous problems but established clear rules of engagement, funding options,and implementation timelines which earned them valuable results”the analyst explained.

For good measure, the analyst further explained “Kenya, after the analogue switch off (ASO) in 2015, had in 2016 and 2017 respectively, successfully reassigned DD1 and DD2 which include frequencies in the 800 MHz and 700MHz bands to mobile operators. The country recouped some generous money, which was a further justification of DSO.”

The DSO project involves the installation of digital broadcasting infrastructure such as transmission towers, transmitters, and set-top boxes to enable viewers to receive digital signals on their television sets. It also involves the migration of television stations from analogue to digital broadcasting.

A government document cited says “the DSO project is being implemented in phases, with the pilot phase launched in Jos, Plateau State in 2016. The rollout of the DSO project has faced several challenges, including funding, infrastructure and equipment procurement, content production and distribution, and public education and awareness.”

It adds that “as at February 2023, the DSO project has been launched in six states in Nigeria, including Plateau, Kwara, Kaduna, Enugu, Osun, and Delta. The federal government had set a deadline of June 2022 for the completion of the DSO project nationwide.

The successful completion of the DSO project is expected to provide several benefits to the Nigerian broadcasting industry, including improved quality and variety of programming, increased revenue generation, and enhanced viewer experience.

But that is where the story ends as political considerations have become yardsticks for the DSO in various stages.

But while governments are in a dilemma about what to do, digital broadcasting fuelled by satellite is on the rise as many countries have adopted digital broadcasting via satellite despite its crippling costs of implementation.

In reality, whichever anybody subscribes to depends on one’s budget. While digital satellite TV has very wide coverage but has high costs of acquisition, terrestrial broadcasting media has lower costs and limited reach. Digital terrestrial TV services are cheaper and easier to set up than that of Cable TV services. They offer extremely cheap subscription packages.

Access to live information and cultural diversity is a fundamental human right.

Satellite TV and radio have fostered this right for decades efficiently and effectively Satellite TV is now directly benefiting from software-defined and coding/modulation innovations that improve the efficiency of spectrum usage and bandwidth flexibility.

Satellite television and radio are a primary source of information and entertainment for nearly 500 million people worldwide. At major sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, that attract vast audiences, satellite TV and radio do not experience traffic congestion issues. Moreover, satellite broadcasting plays a crucial role in remote areas where other broadcasting technologies provide a sub-optimal user experience.

Although satellite media broadcasting (like traditional broadcasting) is facing mounting competition from video-on-demand services, it will still be generating more than US$80 billion of socio-economic benefits in 2030 according to Global Satellite Operators Association (GSOA).

In some regions, such as Africa and the Middle East, the satellite media broadcasting market continues to grow.

With 103 terrestrial TV stations scattered across the country under the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Nigeria has the largest terrestrial television network in Africa.

In all,there are 740 active broadcast stations in Nigeria and most of the privately owned TV stations are digitally enabled. So are the radio stations too.

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