January Makamba, Deputy Minister for Communications
Tanzania became East Africa's first country to switch-off analogue TV signal on Dec. 31, 2012 after the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology announced that Dar es Salaam would be the first city to do so in the region. However many television set owning homes cannot watch broadcasts now.
People at homes are not watching television after the adoption of the digital system because they do not have decoders. Only five out of 20 people interviewed in Dar es Salaam by Xinhua said they have access to television broadcasts.
"We only have useless boxes in our rest rooms for we cannot access any stations without a decoder," George Kaniki of Mbezi Louis, Dar es Salaam, said in an interview on Friday.
According to a programme by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), regions set to follow in the switch- off will be Dodoma and Tanga, whose analogue signals will be deactivated by the end of this month.
January Makamba, Deputy Minister for Communications, Science and Technology, was late last month quoted as saying that the digital signal had already been introduced in many parts of the country including Mwanza, Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Mbeya. At the end of every month through to April, the government would be switching off analogue broadcasting in one of the remaining regions, he said.
He said Mwanza would migrate completely to digital signal by the end of next month, while Mbeya, Moshi and Arusha would follow suit in the month after.
TCRA promised a smooth transition all over the country to avoid inconveniencing people. In the course of this, urging Tanzanians to buy the set top boxes (decoders) to convert analogue TV's into digital signals.
However, most homes in Dar es Salaam still own old TV sets which cannot transmit digital signals without use of decoders.
Though the government took steps to ensure that the price of decoders goes down to as low as 39,000/- (25 U.S. dollars), plus 9,000/- for monthly programmes, not many TV owners have been able to acquire the gadget.
"It is not all that easy to give away over 147,000/- for the gadget and programme (annually) in the prevailing economic hardships," Hashim Kindole who resides at Mbagala Kizuiani in Dar es Salaam said in an interview.
"Not many people will be watching television from their homes in probably the coming 12 months. To buy a new television set is to look for a new asset -- a thing that is not in my budget. I am currently concerned with paying school fees for my children. I will consider buying a decoder probably in June, not now," he said.
Public awareness on digital TV started back in August 2011 when President Jakaya Kikwete inaugurated the Digital Tanzania Campaign. As a result of this, stakeholders fear that the country may not be able to achieve its internal deadline of April 2013 when it expects to have fully migrated to the digital platform, ahead of the global deadline of June 2015 set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
East African Community (EAC) members decided to go digital three years ahead of schedule to ensure they have ample time to work out any glitches before the deadline.
Kenya and Uganda are still lagging behind in the switch-off exercise, with Kenya's process, initially slated for December 31, 2012, delayed through a court order pending hearing of a case challenging the migration.
Rwanda and Burundi are yet to start the transformation.
TCRA said on the last day of 2012 that it would stick to its deadline for switchover from analogue to digital TV broadcasting, even as experts expressed pessimism over the capability of the country making it by 2015.
Tanzania has a relatively low TV coverage with only about 15 percent of the population and mainly in urban areas having access to television broadcasting.
Only seven towns out of more than 20, which need to migrate to digital terrestrial TV, are directly covered by terrestrial analogy TV.
The rest of the country either doesn't have TV coverage or people access TV through satellites or cables, which won't need to migrate to digital terrestrial, according to TCRA Public Relations Manager Innocent Mungy.
Yesterday the TCRA affirmed that the citizens are responding well to the switch from analogue to digital broadcast as 2000-3000 decoders are sold per day and currently the total sale stands at 2 million.
TCRA’s Manager Corporate Communications Innocent Mungy said this during an interview with The Guardian whereby he said the agency conducted a survey in content monitoring laboratory where the decoders are being tested before they are sold in the various outlets in Dar es Salaam.
Mungy also refuted the report that only 5 out of 20 people watch television broadcasts in their homes after the analogue switch-off saying that the sales outlets have been flocked with buyers since the day analogue broadcasts were switched off on December31, 2012.
Mungy revealed that 80 per cent of the decoders sold are returned of which 70 percent turn out to have operational faults and not defects.
He said that while most of gadget users are still ignorant of the receiver operations, others simply do not follow the instructions given.
“Some buyers do not read the instructions on how to operate the channels or plug in the wire in the decoder so they end up mixing the wires which results into failure to receive the channels” he said.
He added: “Others are impatient to stand in the long queues and wait for instructions from the customer care so they decide to operate the decoders and as a result they fail.”
According to TCRA's latest statistics, till middle of last year the migration rate was about 25 percent. But since then a lot of areas have been covered, mainly pushed by the government's fiscal incentives to digital broadcasting companies.
Digital broadcasting has necessitated application of a different broadcasting technology, obliging viewers to buy digital integrated television sets or set top boxes.
One of the main challenges in the migration process has always been to get set top boxes cheaper and high-quality, easy to install, and in a massive scale.