By Florence Guthfreund-Roland & Mathilde Hallé
By June 17, 2015, all African countries should have completed the transition from analogical to digital radio transmission of TV and radio signals.
This deadline was set by the Regional Conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in the 2006 Geneva Agreement (GE-06). The main goals are to improve the quality of signals received, to diversify the existing commercial offers in terms of TV programs and channels, and to make frequency slots available for other purposes such as, e.g., for telco operators to develop fast or ultra-fast broadband internet offers. It is expected that many investment opportunities should arise further to this migration, which should both foster the development of the media and telecom markets, still serving public interests goals.
Considering the challenges, a strong commitment from public authorities is required to put this migration to digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) on track. Indeed, Governments and national regulatory authorities need to identify the priorities, hold the consultation processes with private stakeholders, review the existing legal and regulatory background for the media and telecom sectors and then define the agenda to complete the transition. More specifically, the migration to DTT notably entails the need for local public authorities to get together to define the best way to refarm the frequency spectrum, in accordance with the ITU recommendations and international best practice, so as to have frequency blocks effectively and shortly released by broadcaster. Another challenge is to identify sources of funding to fit users/citizens with digital decoders (whose minimum cost is USD 50 per item), but also to foster the development of new TV and radio programs and offers by broadcasters.
Considering these challenges and the complexity of the issues at stake, it is very likely that many countries will not be in a position to meet the June 2015 deadline. As of today, only a few countries have completed the transition to DTT (including notably Tanzania, Rwanda and Mauritius) and several other are reportedly in the process of transitioning (such as Tunisia, Morroco.Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Ghana). In this context, many countries have reportedly obtained from the ITU that this deadline be postponed in 2020.
More details on the GE-06 and the digital migration in Africa are available in the ITU publications and toolkits: