In June, the country will start the “switch on” process of migrating free-to-air television broadcasting services from analogue format to digital broadcasting, while the date to switch off has not yet been finalised.
Over R3bn has been set aside for the rollout of the set-top box (STB) in South Africa, with more than five million poor households to get the new “digital” television method free.
This was announced on Thursday by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi and Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe after the fortnightly cabinet meeting in Cape Town.
The newly approved broadcast digital migration amendment policy paves the way for the immediate local production and distribution of set-top boxes ahead of the switching on of the digital TV signal and the dumping of analogue TV.
The set-top boxes will allow people who have an analogue TV, and are not subscribers to DStv, to access the digital signal.
A valid TV licence will have to be produced before the installation of a set-top box. The digital migration is regarded as a game-changer in the lucrative broadcast industry.
The introduction of digital TV has been delayed repeatedly for seven years because of leading industry players' inability to agree on whether set-top boxes should be encrypted.
Broadcasters such as MultiChoice opposed encryption whereas e.tv and many civil society organisations advocated it.
An encrypted set-top box allows broadcasters to control access to their digital signal and services, and would create opportunities for newcomers to enter the pay-TV market, which has so far been the monopoly of MultiChoice, with DStv.
Muthambi said the encryption of set-top boxes was a security feature that would prevent them being used when stolen.
She said she did not know when the analogue signal would be turned off but said that other countries had taken between two and seven years to complete digital migration.