By Torisheju Arayi
Anyone interested in Nigeria’s plan for the transition from analog to digital broadcasting knows that since 2008, when the federal government set up a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) for the transition from the analog broadcasting platform to the digital platform, it was more likely to be in Faltering than has flourished.
This was a continuation of the country that, along with over 100 others, signed the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreement of 2006, allowing signatories to transition from analog to digital broadcasting by June 2015.
In 2019, the PAC submitted its report, giving June 17, 2009 as the deadline for completion. So began Nigeria’s march towards digital transition, if you could call it that.
The 2009 deadline was not met, which forced a postponement. The PAC’s recommendations grew in some office cabinets. Three years later, the government woke up to the opening of DigiTeam Nigeria, which, on paper, would drive the implementation of the DSO White Paper.
In collaboration with the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), DigiTeam has set June 17th, 2015 as the deadline.
Since the digital transition takes place on paper, the implementation has stalled again. This is due to a lack of political will as well as the lack of funding required to provide the necessary infrastructure.
The natural result was no significant progress, forcing the deadline to be postponed to June 17, 2017. There was still no time to celebrate as government interest in the digital transition remained lukewarm.
While Nigeria – as it still is – was one step ahead of many countries in Africa, including far less gifted ones, on the way to digital migration and the band actually boomed by 2018. These include Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda, which completed the processes three years ago.
There is widespread concern that by the time other countries around the world are switching to the more up-to-date Over the Top (OTT) platform, Nigeria is still in the process of streaming content over the Internet DTT is covered.
After 2018, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) announced plans to initiate analog shutdown in six cities from Abuja from 2020. The process is expected to take 25 months. Hopes were aroused.
However, things quickly got bad after the suspension of a director general of NBC over a N 2.5 billion corruption scandal last year.
Since then, except February 23, nothing meaningful has been heard about the transition process other than the Independent Corrupt Offenses Commission (ICPC) prosecution of the DG.
On that day, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, spoke at a press conference about the government’s plan for the digital switchover.
A key highlight of the press conference was the unveiling of a 13-person ministerial task force to midwife the process. Mohammed announced himself as chairman and Joe Mutah, a member of his ministry, as secretary. Other members include Professor Armstrong Idachaba, Acting Director General of NBC; Pinnacle Communications’ Olusegun Yakubu and Inview’s Toyin Zubair, better known for its failed pay-TV platform HiTV.
The press conference saw Mohammed in bullish form. Most likely, his audience had passed out. After Mohammed announced the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approval of the outstanding payments to key DSO stakeholders, which are believed to have come from the N34 billion paid by MTN for the broadcast frequency, Mohammed explained all the obstacles to the DSO in the last three years will become history.
“We have no more excuses not to roll out the DSO quickly across the country, hence my decision to set up a 13-person ministerial task force that I will personally chair to take over the roll-out,” he said.
He also stated that last August the government decided to let the private sector control the DSO due to the impact of the CoronaVirus pandemic on public finances. This implies that the original plan to subsidize set-top boxes (STBs) or signal transport has been discarded.
Next up was a salad of promises of how much paradise the completion of the DSO will bring. Muhammad’s nirvana expectations were classic pillow conversations. After its completion, the DSO will create over a million jobs in three years. Fifty thousand of these will come from the domestic production of an estimated 24 million STBs and smart TVs for local and subregional consumption.
He continued to hiss in an optimistic waffle, saying television production would bring in 200,000 because digitization would lead to the establishment of “180 state channels, 30 regional channels and at least 10 national channels.”
The channels he came up with will require local content, and as such, the number of Nigerians interested in television production will increase, which is projected to add 400,000 jobs. He believes this development will push the local film industry to adopt the video-on-demand model on STBs and online, making distribution cheaper and increasing producers’ profit margins.
The more he spoke, the tighter the grip of exaggeration grew on him. The leap in output, he said, will create an additional 200,000 jobs, made possible by overseas demand for local content that would bring the country over $ 100 million.
“I have no doubt that a successful DSO is not just a job spinner who creates over a million jobs in three years, but also a money spinner,” said Mohammed.
Well, we have our doubts and they are on a mile-long list of errors, fantasies, fascinating incompetence and corruption that have plagued the DSO, especially since 2015.
To be fair to the minister, funding was an obstacle and I am pleased that the FEC has given the green light to the payment to key DSO stakeholders. Access to finance and its judicious use are not the same thing. The latter is, I am convinced, 10 feet strange against the DSO dream.
A similarly high rate is the bad strategy. This was evident three years ago when it was launched in Osogbo, where there was no coverage of digital terrestrial television (DTT). A shame that was also seen in the pilot states of Plateau, Enugu, Kwara and Kaduna, as well as in the state Capital Territory, where coverage of free TV signals was only found in state capitals.
It doesn’t take in-depth DSO knowledge to know that residents of communities outside the state capitals did not benefit from the scarce coverage, an indication that the signal carriers selected for the DSO were financially and technically incapable of handling the first component of the To deliver DSO. DTT coverage.
The minister was obviously only listening to the voices in his head. Had it not been for him, he would have realized that the STBs chosen for our DSO are not the standard STBs that are cheaper, but the type with built-in conditional access. Basic standard STBs for DSO receive free-to-air signals and are affordable. In contrast, conditional access ones are similar to those used in pay-TV operations and, unsurprisingly, are far more expensive. Those used during the pilot phase were imported through a N5 billion grand government in the form of guarantees for the manufacturers known as STB makers.
That won’t disrupt Toyin Subair’s own TV system / conditional access provider Inview, which received N1 billion N1 billion to operate the system in just two cities – Abuja and Jos. Inview and other firms identified as key DSO stakeholders are also reported to have submitted papers for additional payments.
With the government’s decision to end subsidies to STBs, Nigerians already pulverized by current economic conditions will certainly endure more pain buying STBs, which cost between N 20,000 and N 30,000 prior to the last naira decline.
The minister’s claim that in three years’ time Nigeria will be self-sufficient in STB production is not supported by the evidence. Professionals say the country only has three companies claiming to have the ability to assemble STBs and none of them currently do. How they will make the leap from producing nothing to satisfying the demand of 24 million users can only be explained by the minister, who has treated the DSO as a personal project since its appointment.
A major problem with the DSO, as with most Nigerian things, is the preference of government officials to see funding of the process as an opportunity to contract the treasure and fund it to the limit. The suspension of NBC’s director general for allegedly participating in the illegal payment of N 2.5 billion to a private company whose employees are also members of the ministerial task force for DSO is a case in point.
The suspended NBC chief, currently being prosecuted by the ICPC, allegedly misled the Secretary of Information into approving the payment to Pinnacle Communications Limited, a private signal distribution operator, as a “seed grant” in contravention of DSO guidelines , according to which only the government is affiliated. Firms are entitled to do so.
The assumption that Nollywood will be better served by a cheaper distribution structure is similarly legless. The already expanded access to smart devices means that local creative content is accessed online for fun. It is unclear what better distribution is in sight.
The conditions for massive failure are created. The country is already left behind, if not forever, as we boldly wrote “big for nothing” about ourselves in place of the giant Africa we claim to be
Arayi writes from Lagos
Vanguard News Nigeria