Nigeria’s 2022 digital switchover target uncertain as FG slows on timeline

• Digital transition is on course, says NBC
• Lagosians unaware of FreeTv as designated sales centres yet to begin

The plan by the Federal Government to complete the country’s digital switchover (DSO) by December 7, 2022, might not be realised following the failure of the government to keep to the timelines set.

While Lagos officially transited from analogue to digital broadcasting on April 29 and hoped to complete the process by October, nothing has been heard or done about the next three transiting states.

According to the timetable, after Lagos, Kano was expected to have come up on June 3, to be followed by Rivers on July 7 and Yobe, July 15.

Consequently, this means that other transition dates for this year, including Gombe (August 8); Imo (August 24); Akwa Ibom (August 31); Oyo (September 9); Jigawa (September 23); Ebonyi (October 10); Katsina (October 12); Anambra (November 4) and Delta (November 11), might not materialize as expected. Other states are penciled down for completion on or by December 2022.

Findings by The Guardian showed that the removal of the former acting Director-General (DG) of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Armstrong Idachaba, by President Muhammadu Buhari, on June 11, was a major factor that is slowing the process. Idachaba was appointed acting DG of the commission, replacing Modibbo Kawu, who was suspended in February 2020. Idachaba was replaced by Balarabe Shehu Ilelah.

Besides, it was also gathered that the about N9 billion owed to service providers including SES, ITS, call centre operators, and other individuals have not been paid. It was also learned that Pinnacle, which was supposed to put a second transmitter in Ikorodu to ensure full coverage of Lagos, was yet to install because the equipment has not been cleared at the port due to lack of funds.

A member of the DSO task force, who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, said: “If you need more information on the transition so far, get across to “Pinnacle and ITS. But I know nothing has been done since we flagged off Lagos. We were supposed to move from Lagos to Kano, from there to Rivers and to Yobe. We are yet to do Kano, so there is no way Yobe can come up. Actually, we have not completed Lagos yet, Pinnacle is supposed to put up a second transmitter in Ikorodu to ensure full coverage of the state, which is yet to be done. The last time we spoke, they said the equipment expected is not available yet, the transmitter, I learned is still at the port.

“Apart from that, both Pinnacle and ITS that were being owed money, you remember the Minister announced to the world that FG has released some N9 billion, it is the money already owed to service providers (SES, ITS) and calls centre operator and other individuals. As at the last time, I am not sure they had been paid that money because they made it very clear that if they don’t receive at least a substantial part payment of their indebtedness, they will not be able to move further.

“As at the time we launch Lagos, it was based on promises, nothing concrete has been achieved. At some of the meetings I’m privy to, the issue of payment was not discussed. ITS was supposed to launch Kano in June, but as at the last time we spoke, I am not sure they have been paid because they can only launch when they have received money and installed their equipment.”

Efforts to get Mr. Sadeeq of ITS to comment on the development failed, as he promised to call back, but never did. When he was called again, he didn’t pick his call. It was also difficult to reach the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to comment on the progress of the digital transition, but the Special Assistant to The President (Media), Office of the Minister of Information and Culture, Segun Adeyemi, said the NBC would be the best to comment on the development.

When The Guardian got across to NBC, the commission confirmed the slow process of the DSO. The Director of Public Affairs, NBC, Mrs. Gloria Makinde, told The Guardian that the DSO is very much on, only suffered a small delay because of the change in the leadership of the Commission.

Makinde said: “Basically, not much is happening now because as you are well aware, there is a change in the leadership of the NBC. We have a new DG. He is trying to acclamitise. DSO is in progress. The delay is because of the change in the leadership of the Commission. As he settles down properly, he will come up with a statement that will give proper direction for the DSO.”

On whether Nigeria will still meet the December 2022 deadline, the NBC director, said: “I just explained to you, when he settles down, there will be more clarification on that.”

MEANWHILE, more awareness would need to be carried out in Lagos and indeed another part of Nigeria, so that people will be aware that there is a transition from analog to digital broadcasting in the country. This is even as some of the accredited designated centres for the sales of set-top boxes (STB) have not started selling.

Checks on the Ilasamaja; Ikeja and Lagos Island centres showed that nothing appeared to have started in these centres. A businessman, Theophilus Adekunle, told The Guardian that he is not aware of any digital transition, “not to talk of FreeTV initiative of the NBC.”

Alaba Market-based importer, Kingsley Obikwelu, also said he is not aware of the switch-over plan by the Federal Government. “What is switch over? I am just hearing this for the first time. I think there should be more aware of the Federal Government wants Nigerians to participate in the programme,”Obikwelu stated.

A medical practitioner, Dr. Rose Amber, said she’s aware of the transition, “but I am worried that getting the FreeTV STB is harrowing. On the flyers, we saw a number of one of the listed designated centres, which is at Ikeja, the lady, who spoke said they are still expecting the STBs to be shipped to them.

“I think these are some of the things that should be looked into. There must be the availability of STBs, also, the signals must be clear and strong,” she stated.

IN a related development, the House of Representatives has insisted on pay-as-you-go and a price slash Pay-TV operators in the country.

The House considered and approved recommendations of the Ad–hoc Committee on Non–Implementation of Pay–As–You–Go and sudden Increment of Tariffs plan by Broadcast Digital Satellite Service Providers.

The Chairman of the Committee and member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency, Rep Unyime Idem, had earlier laid the report before the House and was considered during Wednesday’s (July 14) Plenary in Abuja.

The House called on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency expedite action on implementing the content of the National Broadcasting Code and the Nigeria information Policy of 2014.

The House noted that this would trigger healthy competition in the industry, adding that the entertainment industry had a wider spectrum with limitless job and wealth creation opportunities for the teeming youths.

The House stated that the visible absence of competitors in the industry was tacit approval of monopoly by the present operators. The House suggested that the timely application of government regulatory intervention measures already articulated would revolutionise the industry and meet the people’s yearnings for Pay-as-you-go, Pay-Per-View, and price reduction.

According to the recommendation, extant laws that moderate operations in the industry are to be fine-tuned to meet 21st century regulatory laws of the industry that is dynamic as the entertainment industry.

The House noted that the NBC, saddled with the responsibility of licensing and regulating the activities of service providers must also have the power to moderate in the protection of consumers to guard against exploitation.

The House stated that there was little or nothing a regulator could do if it was handicapped by laws that were not properly tailored to the needs of the society.

Further, the report stated that price increase and reduction have always been contentious issues for producers and consumers in the business world.

The House also listed the factors responsible for the hike in subscription fees as the recent increment of VAT by 2.5 per cent by the Financial Amendment Act of Jan. 13, 2020, and the fluctuating foreign exchange rate in the country that affects the cost of content.

Other contentious issues listed are broadcast equipment, experienced hire and technical infrastructure, increase in bouquets for a wider choice, inflation on the cost of production, and need to maintain the workforce.

HOWEVER, on the House’s recommendations, particularly the implementation of the Pay-As-You-Go clause, the Chief Executive Officer of MultiChoice Nigeria, John Ugbe, had in one of his media interviews, explained that it would be impossible for the PayTV provider to implement the Pay-Per-View (PPV) model.

Ugbe stressed that unlike mobile telcos, which provide two-way communication services, the satellite broadcasters’ one-way transmission means that they are unable to monitor subscribers’ connection to the service and estimate the duration spent.

According to him, MultiChoice will have to be completely restructured technically and operationally to operate a PPV model in Nigeria. He stated that this implies that subscribers will be charged a much higher tariff if the PPV billing system is to be implemented.

Although Startimes, a DStv competitor, introduced a type of PPV pricing system on all its bouquets where customers can subscribe daily, weekly or monthly and still access the same channels, global standard showed that PPV model means that subscribers are continually charged each time the service is used as is the case with mobile telcos’ metered services.
Globally, pay-TV companies do not run a PPV model. However, some pay TVs including Sky UK and DirecTV US offer the PPV pricing option. PPV attracts even higher tariffs as subscribers have to pay additional fees asides from their active subscriptions to watch special events.
A telecoms expert explained that the PPV model might be difficult to implement for pay-TV providers compared to mobile telcos. He said mobile telcos usually make a one-off payment to buy spectrum while pay-TV providers have to continually buy content subject to an abrupt price increase for broadcast.

Besides, Aluko added that maybe a timeline should be handed to these PayTV operators to review and remodel their structure to be able to accommodate the yearnings of Nigeria, “as I don’t think they have the capacity to put in place such a facility for now.

“From my checks, these people, especially DStv, procure content on a monthly basis. They don’t procure it based on the time the consumer will be using it, but on an entire month.”

The National President, Association of Telephone, Cable TV and Internet Subscribers (ATCIS), Sina Bilesanmi, in an interview, noted that Nigerians were generally being exploited by MultiChoice and other players in the PayTV market. Bilesanmi argued that the fact that subscribers were stuck with the monthly prepaid subscription model against the people’s will means that the policy is exploitative.

“Here is why: When you do your subscription today, and you travel for the next 30 days such that you have not enjoyed your subscription, it will have expired before your return, and when you come back, you’ll have to do another subscription to have access to their services. This is why ATCIS, as the only subscriber advocacy body in the country, has been canvassing that these PayTV operators should introduce another model known as, Pay-As-You-Go or Pay Per View,” he stated.

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