Broadcasters are lobbying for set-top boxes to be as cheap as possible in order to ease the migration to digital terrestrial TV, writes Jocelyn Newmarch in Business Day.


This is in contrast to the cabinet-approved policy, which recommended set-top boxes include interactive features and e-government services, pushing the price up to R700.

A 70% subsidy will be given to the poorest households, but even with the subsidy, there are concerns that the boxes will still be too expensive.

Basic boxes could cost about R500.

The boxes are needed to convert digital signals for analogue TV sets.

After November 1 2011, households without set-top boxes will not be able to watch TV.

In a protectionist move, the communications department previously announced that set-top boxes would be obtained primarily from local manufacturers.

However, yesterday the broadcasters and Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) councillor Robert Nkuna lobbied for a more pragmatic stance that would see basic boxes distributed initially and the possibility of upgrading to fancier set-top boxes further down the line.

In the UK, set-top boxes retail for as little as £15, the SABC, M-Net and told journalists yesterday.

They said that a successful digital migration relied on attractive content on new channels, affordability of set-top boxes and clear communication to the public.

Attractive new channels meant consumers were more likely to buy set-top boxes.

"From's point of view, it is critical that the set-top boxes are as cost-effective as possible," said Bronwyn Keene-Young,'s chief operating officer.

She said there was a need for some security features in order to prevent subsidised boxes being taken out of the country, and for imported boxes to meet SA's standards, but this had to be balanced with affordability.

Keene-Young and SABC acting group CEO Gab Mampone said the issue was still under debate.

Karen Willenberg, director of regulatory affairs at M-Net, said the affordability of set-top boxes had been crucial to the success of digital TV in other countries.

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