Nigeria’s Quest for Digital Switch Over

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Since 2012, Nigeria has failed to meet the deadline set by the International Telecoms Union for the digital switchover. Yet, the National Broadcasting Commission insists that so much has been achieved, writes Emma Okonji

Digital Switch Over (DSO) is a global terminology in the telecommunications parlance that describes complete migration from analogue broadcasting to digital broadcasting. The International Telecoms Union (ITU), the global telecommunications regulator, has been championing the global campaign for DSO, especially in African countries, where majority of the countries are yet to align with the global campaign.

In order to join the rest of the world in the entire process of digital migration, Nigeria, in agreement with ITU, chose June 17, 2012 as its first deadline to complete the DSO, but failed to meet up with the deadline for lack of adequate preparation on the part of government. Another date of June 17, 2015, was again chosen, but Nigeria still could not meet up with the deadline. Having missed the deadline twice, Nigeria, again, chose June 17, 2017 for the completion of the DSO process, but could not cover 95 per cent digital access across the country, which is the benchmark for DSO, even though the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the government agency responsible for driving DSO in Nigeria, is insisting that so much have been achieved in the entire process of DSO since 2016. The agency said it has switched on two cities in Nigeria, Jos and Abuja, with plans to roll out DSO in six states, from among the six geopolitical regions of the country.

Expectations
Contrary to the expectations of Nigerians that the country will either switch over from analogue to digital broadcasting by June 17, which was last week, or miss out for the third time on the digital switchover plan, the Director General, NBC, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, has said that the June 17, 2017 date fixed by Nigeria in collaboration with ITU is a mere benchmark date to guide Nigeria in the entire digital switchover process.

Kawu, who gave the clarification in Lagos last week, while briefing the media on the readiness of Nigeria to switch over to digital broadcasting, admitted that Nigeria had chosen June 17, 2017 as the next date for digital switchover, after failing twice to meet up with previous dates in 2012 and 2015. However, he insisted that the dates have nothing to do with the entire switchover process, since Nigeria has achieved huge success since 2016 in the digital migration process.

He said that Jos, in Plateau State and Abuja have already been switched on but with little gaps to be filled by signal distributors who are working hard to ensure full coverage of the two cities. He also said six other states, from each of the six geopolitical zones have been penciled down for the next phase launch of DSO. On completion of the six states in which work has commenced, NBC will select another six states for the digital switchover launch before the end of this year.

Assurances

Raising hopes of Nigerians through assurances, Kawu said: “We remain optimistic that by the end of the year, at least half of the country would have access to free digital television content. Our timeline plan is to execute a phased implementation of six states, at a period. So as we conclude the six states currently in progress, we would choose another set of six states, reflecting the geo-political zones, for the next phase, until the entire country is completely covered,” Kawu said.
“In respect of a specific switchover date, I believe that the countries of the ECOWAS sub-region would re-assess the issue, given that all member countries have not met the June switchover deadline. But again, it must be emphasised that the delicate nature of the DSO process, has always obliged countries to carefully manage the process to avoid problems,” the NBC boss said.

According to him, most countries of the world have had to adjust their switch off dates, “but let me re-emphasise that one of the fears about delayed DSO transition, is the problem of trans-border signal interference from analogue transmitters. The good news is that our neighbouring countries have not achieved anything close to what Nigeria has been able to do so far. As a matter of fact, none of the countries in the ECOWAS sub-region has a DSO process that matches what we have achieved in Nigeria.”

Team players

Listing the team players in the DSO process since 2006 to include DIGITEAM; Signal Distributors; Set-Top-Box manufacturers; Middle Ware Supplier; and Content Aggregator, the NBC boss commended their efforts for the achievement level that Nigeria has reached to deliver the DSO.
“The team players as well as significant players in government and the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, helped us in achieving the feat,” Kawu said.

Task before the NBC

While highlighting the task before NBC in achieving 95 per cent digital television access across the county, Kawu said: “When I was appointed DG of the NBC a little over a year ago, I found that the DSO process was one of the most important tasks that the NBC was carrying out. It was however dogged by a host of controversies. First, the Second National Signal Distributor, Pinnacle Communications Limited had been in dispute with the NBC. They were in court, because of a host of grievances arising from the way that the contract with them had been handled by the NBC. Pinnacle Communications Limited had been the single biggest contributor to the DSO process, so it became imperative that we did everything to get them out of court, to return them to the DSO process.

“After several meetings, we reached an agreement, and Pinnacle Communications accepted to drop their litigation against the NBC. They returned to the process; were appointed as signal distributors for the Abuja DSO. The company mobilised very significant financial and other logistical resources, which helped us to achieve a successful launch in the FCT. Even the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who represented President Buhari, to launch the Abuja Switch Over, was very impressed with the facilities that Pinnacle Communications Limited installed; and they were done, without receiving any financial assistance whatsoever, from government.”
He said the DSO process is also a learning experience for all of us driving it, and “we have continued to enrich the experiences of Nigerians.”

Next phase of DSO

Following the successful launch of the Abuja DSO last December, NBC announced a plan to launch in one state from each of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. Consequently, the following states were chosen for the next phase of the project: Kaduna in the Northwest; Gombe in the Northeast; Kwara in theNorth Central; Osun in the Southwest; Delta in the South-South and Enugu in the Southeast.
According to Kawu, a decision was taken at the last stakeholders meeting to launch in Ilorin Kwara state by the end of June; Kaduna by the beginning of July, and subsequently launch Osogbo in Osun; Enugu in Enugu state; and then Delta as well as Gombe state. He however said that the decisions to launch in various states were taken when issues around the financial commitments of the NBC to its various stakeholders had not been clearly settled. He added that the NBC had to proceed with the faith that the DSO was just too vital to national progress and should not face any more delays.

Understudying Nigeria’s DSO process

Nigeria’s DSO process has become the most talked about in Africa, it was designed by Nigerians and is being implemented by Nigerians.
Last week, NBC received a delegation from the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, led by the Deputy Director General, Mr. Leul Gegbru, to understudy the Nigerian DSO process.
“We had very fruitful discussions on the Nigerian DSO and we offered them the Nigerian roadmap and we have decided to intensify assistance in their process,” Kawu said.

Also last week, the Minister of Communications of Niger Republic, also led a delegation to Abuja for the same purpose, while early this month, in China, NBC held preliminary discussions with the Zambian broadcasting regulatory body on their proposed plan to come and study the Nigerian DSO process.

“The government of Sierra Leone has begun discussions with some of the Nigerian companies engaged in the Nigerian DSO process, to partner them to commence the Sierra Leonean DSO process. In truth, Nigeria is the leader now on the African continent, in the process of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting. We must be proud of the work we have done as a country,” Kawu said.

The journey to DSO

The journey towards the preparation for digital switchover actually started in Nigeria in June 17, 2006, after Nigeria 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 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 for migration.

Having missed the initial date in 2012, government was forced to shift migration date to June 17, 2015.
Although the NBC was ready to conclude the migration in 2015, but it was faced with cash constraints, as 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 NBC, a situation that made Nigeria to miss digital migration for the second time.

The June 17, 2017 date is the third time Nigeria is missing out on DSO deadline, even though NBC said so much have been achieved since 2016, prompting neighbouring African countries to seek to understudy the success that Nigeria has recorded in the DSO process.