Faced with funds paucity, Nigeria has failed to meet today’s deadline to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting.
Consequently, from today, the country will be submerged in digital darkness over its inability to meet the deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union, ITU.
The ITU had in 2006 set the deadline of June 17, 2015 for countries to switch from analogue broadcasting in preference for digital broadcasting, which has numerous advantages, including sharper images and economy of spectrum.
Now that the country has failed to meet the deadline, the ITU will shut Nigeria out of broadcasting radar, especially if Niger, Cameroun, Benin Republic and Chad were able to switch.
In a reaction to the development, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC said that, “As the ITU holds an international symposium on that date at its headquarters in Geneva, to take stock of the digital switchover worldwide, Nigeria will be among 52 other African countries that will not meet the deadline.”
In a statement issued by NBC’s Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Awwalu Salihu, he said: “It is noteworthy that the main penalty Nigeria will face consequently is that analogue signals will receive no protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from our neighbours, most of whom are also unable to transit to digital.”
The Commission however assured Nigerians, that as disappointing as this may be, “it was not without a fairly good shot at success” and promised to switch as soon as funds are available.
“The Commission wishes to further assure Nigerians that we will only switch off Analogue signals when majority of Nigerians can receive digital signals. As soon as funds are available, the Commission will, within 18 months conclude the final stages to the Digital Switch Over, DSO, which include the acquisition and local production of the Set-top-boxes, relocation of MultiChannel Multipoint Distribution Service, MMDS operators, buy-back of obsolete analogue transmitters and massive publicity,” he said.
Salihu said NBC had worked actively since 2006 to put all the building blocks of the transition in place. “The journey would have been completed if funding had been available. It is important however to state that the journey towards Digital Terrestrial Television has already started. At the moment, Nigeria has reached about 20 per cent penetration of the 26 million TV households in the country.”
The Director-General of NBC, Mr. Emeka Mba, had last month told Nigerians that the digital switchover would not be realistic in the country.
He said: “Analogue transmitters of any country that fails to transit, from that date, will no longer enjoy the protection of the International Telecommunication Union, ITU.”
But, the Chairman, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON and Director-General, Nigerian Television Authority, Mr. Sola Omole, had at a press conference in April, said the deadline was not cast in stone as the priority of different countries could change.
He said: “I don’t think the date is cast in stone. June 2015, I don’t think it is cast in stone. Priorities change. We have a new political environment that is emerging. We need to understand what all the priorities are. We are working hard at it. I cannot say definitely. But Nigeria signed the convention in 2006.
“All efforts are being made to ensure that this thing comes to fruition. The fact that we are holding this summit indicates that this thing can happen. Maybe it will not happen on June 17 but definitely, it will happen.”
Why Nigeria missed the deadline
Findings are that since the DSO process began in 2006 under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration through to former President Umaru Yar’adua, and immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, the NBC did not receive any funding to implement its programmes.
Mba told journalists on the sideline of an International Digital Broadcasting Summit in Abuja, last month that the inability of the Federal Government to grant the commission’s request of N60billion to fund the project was the major reason for the inability of the commission to achieve the Digital Switchover this year.
“I think we became the step child during the dwindling moment of national resources and the Federal Government preferred to attend to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s request after we all submitted our proposals in 2012. As an alternative way out, we are at the verge of requesting Federal Government to permit us auction available spectrums to raise the needed fund since we are still in charge of them,” he said.
Fate of consumers
Although many believe that the only challenge in missing the digital migration will pose is the possibility of signal interferences, especially since the ITU’s deadline will cease to protect analogue broadcast from interference by digital signals, industry watchers say this is by far not the worst consequence.
Salihu, in an interview with Nigerian Pilot yesterday, said: “The implication is that we will not be protected from other companies’ digital communication.”
Mohammed Danladi, a public analyst, who has long been critical of government’s inability to move forward with digital migration, had said that, “Digital migration has been on the table for years and nothing has happened. It’s happening in a very haphazard way.”