An Eye on the New Digital Switchover Deadline

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With the successful launch of the pilot phase of the digital switchover in Jos, Plateau State and in Abuja, the federal capital territory, the National Broadcasting Commission is optimistic that Nigeria will meet the June 2017 deadline, writes Emma Okonji

With barely five months to the new deadline for digital migration otherwise known as Digital Switchover (DSO), Nigerians are skeptical about the possibility of achieving the June 2017 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), having missed deadlines twice in 2012 and 2015.

However, the Director General of National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, has assured Nigerians that the process of migration from analogue to digital broadcasting will be concluded on or before the new deadline, having successfully launched the pilot phase of the scheme in Jos and Abuja, with plans to further launch in each state of the federation in the coming months.

Launch of DSO in Jos
Although the federal government, through the NBC had commenced the process of digital migration from analogue to digital broadcasting since 2006, the actual journey to achieve this feat commenced with the launch of the pilot phase of the DSO in Jos, Plateau State on June 30th, 2014, and supervised by the then Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku. This was followed by another pilot launch in the same Jos, in April 2016, and supervised by the current Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed. The plan as at 2014 was that NBC would launch the scheme in all the six geopolitical zones, but it was never fulfilled for several reasons.

Launch of DSO in Abuja
Determined to meet up with the new deadline of June 20, 2017, and in line with the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari on DSO, the current Director General of NBC, Kawu, decided to take the pilot phase launch to other parts of the country, beginning with Abuja.
Last month, precisely on December 22, 2016, the NBC launched the Abuja pilot phase of DSO at Pinnacle Communications’ transmission centre, Mpape Hills in Abuja.

Speaking at the launch, Kawu reiterated federal government’s determination to conclude the DSO in June this year. According to him, “I want to place on record the incredible support that the NBC has received from President Buhari to ensure the success of the digitisation process in Nigeria. The president directed that funds seized from the Commission be promptly released to facilitate our work. Not only that, our work has taken place within the vision that President Buhari laid up for a digital economy in Nigeria. He had envisaged an economic process driven by Nigeria’s very creative young people; arguably the most dynamic and most creative on the African continent today.”

“As part of the Abuja switch on, we would transmit 30 TV channels offering fares in news, entertainment, sports and business. The bouquet of programs offers local, regional and national television channels; this is the new way to watch television. Our Set Top Boxes are also interactive, offering the unique opportunity for government to communicate directly with the Nigerian people; there is also the possibility of instant feedback which would assist in deepening the democratic process,” Kawu said.

Opportunities

According to Kawu, immense opportunities abound for Nigerians in the era of digital broadcasting. There is a rich possibility opening up for Nollywood to offer access to the rich repertoire of Nigerian films that would sweep the carpets from the feet of pirates, thus bringing more funds to help develop Nigeria’s film industry, the third largest on earth. In the new digital ecosystem, 70 per cent of content on 24-hour television would be local and this offers job opportunities as well as wealth creation for Nigeria’s very creative youths through the entire broadcasting value chain. The introduction of a Digital Access Fund (DAF) would become platform to help collect television licences in Nigeria, thus present opportunities for local governments around Nigeria to get funds that can aid the development of the grassroots.

Envisaged challenges

In spite of the many benefits of digital broadcasting, Kawu, however, said there would be surmountable challenges that needed to be addressed without delays. According to him, the most important point that we must all ruminate over, is that we have a timeline of June 2017, to complete a nation-wide digital switchover. That presents a huge logistic and financial challenge during the current economic climate in the country.

“Our plan for success is to involve the Nigerian Governors’ Forum in the next phase of the switch on. In the next few months, we plan to switch on six states, chosen from each of Nigeria’s geo-political zones. We then envisage a domino-like effect that will bring other states within the loop, in a race to meet the June 2017 deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), for member countries in the ECOWAS sub-region. There are challenging but exciting days, weeks and months ahead, for Nigeria’s digital switch on,” the DG of NBC said.

“I will like to assure Nigerians that at the National Broadcasting Commission, we will give its very best, to drive this historic process to a successful conclusion. We seek the continued support of President Buhari, members of the Nigeria Governors Forum and all other critical stakeholders for Nigerian digital switchover,” Kawu added.

The journey so far

The journey towards the digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasting actually started in Nigeria in June 17, 2006, after Nigeria had signed international and regional agreement to conclude digital migration by June 17, 2012.

In a bid to achieve the 2012 migration date, the federal government in 2007, approved the process of migration and in 2008, it inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. The committee was mandated to come up with a recommended policy, regulatory framework and a broadcasting model for the process, and in 2009, the committee submitted its report with several recommendations. Government, however, kept the recommendations to itself for three years and did not release the white paper for digital migration, a situation that caused Nigeria to miss out on the June 17, 2012 initial date.

Having missed the initial date in 2012, government was forced to shift migration date to June 17, 2015. In order to achieve the June 17, 2015 date, the federal government, through the NBC, set a deadline of January 1, 2015 as the switch off date.

In December 2012, the federal government was moved to inaugurate a 14-man team tagged Digiteam Nigeria, with Mr. Edward Amana as the Chairman, to drive the process of digital migration, yet the Digiteam was not given the required funding that will help it actualise the task.

Although the Digiteam, in collaboration with the NBC, was ready to conclude the migration by January 1, 2015, but it was faced with cash constraints because the federal government did not release the necessary funds for the migration, even though the structure to achieve the feat had been put in place by the committee and the NBC.
Based on the inability of government to release funds for the DSO, Nigeria, for the second time, missed out on digital switchover.

Now that Nigeria is planning to make history with the completion of DSO in June this year, the NBC must do everything within its powers and technical skills, to ensure successful migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.