The Sun News

Digitization of broadcasting: Any progress?

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

As a media communication stakeholder, this writer is often attracted to the much talked about issue of digital switchover, which the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) has commenced in phases. In Abuja, the federal government recently switched on digital television broadcasting, signposting the gradual discontinuation of analogue broadcasting. Though the Abuja digital switchover came months after it was done in Jos, Plateau State, but it is still worth celebrating. The Abuja end of the exercise is handled by a privately administered digital signal operator. 

  The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) has another strategic arm of the DSO through its forward looking entity known as Integrated Television Service (ITS). This government-owned enterprise that has a technical partnership agreement with the reputable Star Times of China, is competently playing its own role as a strategic Digital Signal Distributor. Understandably, this highly innovative agency has recently come under a campaign of calumny allegedly linked to an erstwhile staff of the NTA, Mr. Tony Dara, who is said to have some deep-seated grudges against his former employer.

There are strong reasons to link his campaign against ITS to a   business partnership he unsuccessfully sought to have with his former employers. He has written articles in the media to ridicule the technical competence of ITS. On its own part, this government agency has behaved in the most civilised way, intellectually debunking the kernels of this campaign by scientifically adducing evidence-based presentations to demonstrate the technical competence of its staff and management.

We will return to this issue of a well-coordinated campaign to discredit the NTA later. But, first let’s ask ourselves what the digital switchover is all about.

According to the NBC, Digital SwitchOver (DSO) is the name given to the process of changing from analogue to digital TV broadcasting. The digital television transition or analogue switch-off (ASO) is also the process in which analogue television broadcasting is converted to and replaced by digital television. But, how does this benefit the consumers of broadcast services in Nigeria?

Digital broadcasting, according to experts, means that consumers can enjoy a wider variety of shows on multiple channels with a better quality of broadcast. It also facilitates reduced power and energy consumption, and spectrum efficiency, which brings a host of associated benefits for consumers and broadcasters. For instance, in Abuja, TV viewers will be able to enjoy 30 channels unlike the limited number of channels offered by analogue TV.

Many people today, according to an expert quoted in a Daily Trust  piece, will be familiar with analogue broadcasting – having a restricted choice of programming due to limited space for channels; having to tune the TV to your region to ensure that you can pick up broadcasts; having to play with  the antennae to get a smooth, uninterrupted signal. But, digital TV has changed all that.

The digital dividend will be used by the telecom industry players, thereby giving more internet access to the people, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Also, broadcast transmissions involve many players in the chain-content producers, chain programmers, point-to-point links (such as between the studio and the transmitter station), manufacturers and end users.  The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) gave Nigeria up to June, 2017 to switch from analogue broadcasting to Digital to free up some spectrum for telecoms use. If Nigeria meets the deadline, it means the country will cease to broadcast analogue TV. Under the Federal government’s white paper on DIGITAL SWITCH OVER, the Nigerian state has set up a monitoring team known as DigiTeam. Today, they are headed towards Oshogbo to take first hand looks at the transmitters of the Integrated Television Service. 

  As committed civil society activists, HURIWA is worried about the opaque nature of information dissemination from relevant government agencies. Allegations and counter-allegations of unpreparedness, favoritism, nepotism and embezzlement of taxpayers’ money by industry players have also flared up. Twice, Nigeria missed the digital switch-over (DSO) deadline.

Stakeholders in the broadcast industry believe that Nigeria would have gone far by now, if some of the ripples had been avoided because the country has missed two deadlines for switch-over, which have been rationalized by the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) as normal teething problems whereas billions of taxpayers’ money to the tune of N2.5 billion is allegedly being used to fund a private company, which by contractual agreement, should be paying the federal government.

Our worry stems from the missteps committed by the government in the power sector in which the DISCOS were gifted with billions of Naira of taxpayers’ money but till date Nigerian electricity consumers are groaning under poor power supply. Recently, NERC fined one of the DISCOS the sum of N50 million for failure to comply with operational standards.

 We are also aware of the campaign targeted at the government-owned ITS, one of the two signal distributors of the Digital Switchover.

We are aware that a fifth columnist has gone to the media to cast aspersions on the integrity and authenticity of the state of infrastructure installed by ITS, which is owned by NTA. NTA belongs to the Nigerian public. Our duty as patriotic human rights defenders is to provide interventions whenever we think there are subterranean plots to undermine the success of any publicly-owned enterprise as part of our statutory mandate as human rights defenders.

We are aware that some of these wild allegations are being bandied to discredit the credibility of ITS. Contrary to their claim that the ITS-installed transmitters have been discontinued by the original equipment manufacturers, we have extensively used our international network to verify that broadcast technology is very dynamic but there are opportunities for backward integration. DVB – T2 technology (which ITS uses) was reportedly commercialized in 2008. They were bought as DVB – T2 and not DVB – T as alleged by those who are waging a well-oiled campaign against ITS.

We have learnt that the transmitters in use by ITS in Jos, Ilorin, Osogbo and Enugu are custom-built DVB – T2 by Rhode & Schwarz. ITS has back up transmitters and signal processing equipment which can be deployed real time in case of failures. We, therefore, urge President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the pronouncements as encompassed in the government’s white paper are implemented to the letter so that the broadcasting/communication rights of Nigerians are not undermined by fifth columnists.

 

Onwubilo, of Huriwa, [email protected]

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