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Digital Switch Over, before the bell rings

by Goddie Ofose
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The journey of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) that will culminate in Analogue Switch Off (ASO) actually started in 2004 when a regional radio conference for region one of the International Telecoms Union (ITU) was held in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference set up the technical parameters for the basis for a regional agreement for Direct Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting in ITU region one.

In 2006, a second regional radio conference was held in Geneva and the conference carried out the planning exercise for the ITU Region One. The plans were based on specified digital standards for sounds and television broadcasting, and it covered specific frequency bands. The second conference also resulted in signing of an agreement by the member states of ITU in Region One, which Nigeria belongs to. One of the key elements of the agreement was that all analogue television transmitters operating in the UHL frequency band must be switch off by June 17, 2015. The agreement was tagged ‘Geneva 2006 Agreement’, and Nigeria was a signatory to the agreement.

After the World Radio Conference of 2007, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) initiated the setting up of a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) to drive the transition from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting in Nigeria. The committee submitted its report to the federal government on June 20, 2009, with a well-defined roadmap that would see Nigeria complete the DSO by June 17, 2012. Unfortunately, owing largely to political reasons, the government could not address the recommendations of PAC until December 2012, when DigiTeam Nigeria, the Presidential Implementation Committee for digital transmission was inaugurated. Due to lack of budgetary allocation for the digital switchover in the 2013 fiscal budget, a new switchover date of January 15, 2015, was fixed.

Nigeria missed out on all the deadlines for DSO rollout until April 30, 2016, when the pilot launch of the DSO was held in Jos, Plateau State, by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, with 16 digital channels on the platform of Integrated Television Services (ITS), a licensed Signal Distributors. After the pilot launch in Jos, NBC commenced the actual rollout of DTT in other locations beginning with Abuja, with over 30 channels on the platform of Pinnacle Communications Limited, another licensed Signal Distributor on December 22, 2016. DSO rollout has also been held in Kwara, Kaduna, Enugu and Osun States.

While speaking at the Lagos DSO launch, which marked the commencement of the second phase rollout of DSO in the country, the minister said, “The switch-on of Lagos is unique and epochal because it marks the first time that the DSO project would be beaming 60 choice channels to television households. Lagos is Nigeria’s creative hub, hence it is important to harness the creative talents that abound in the state through this project. Also, the DSO provides us with a great platform to key into the Lagos Smart City Project, which seeks to use technology to enhance service delivery in all spheres of life.”

Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the state has multi-reasons to be committed to the DSO project. He noted that the DSO enhanced job creation and content development, and it would empower many youths, especially those in the entertainment and tourism industry. He added that the project would also provide opportunity for the government to use the content to inform and engage the citizens while bringing governance closer to the people. “Being a forward-looking state, we are in partnership, and we see it as bringing the future to our citizens, so we are really ?game on this. In the last two years, we have been developing our metropolitan fiber optics to provide fiber connectivity as one of the solutions for our citizens to have access to cheaper data. Being the nation’s ‘Centre of Excellence’, it is our desire that Lagos will continue to set the pace for the nation,” the governor said.

The governor urged the Ministerial Taskforce on DSO to make the Free TV box and after-sale support easily accessible. The DSO television platform, which is branded as Free TV, offers its Lagos viewers about 60 digital channels, including sports, music, movies and news, as well as Value Added Services (VAS) such as enforcement and collection of TV licenses, Premium Pay TV channels, Push Video on Demand, Information Services and Audience Measurement.

Speaking on the benefits of DSO, the Director General of NBC, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, said that the digitization of broadcasting would bring lots of opportunities for Nigerians, as it is the fastest and safest way to leapfrog those at the lower rung of the digital divide. “With the second phase rollout in Lagos, a projected five million Nigerians will be accessing the digital television services, not only for broadcasting but for telecoms and other ancillary services. It will create jobs for Nigerian engineers and content creators, and small-scale businesses are going to be stimulated around this proposition,” he said. He added, “Six months from the date of the launch in Lagos, analogue broadcasting in Lagos will be switched off, and I encourage all Lagosians to get the Set-Top-Boxes produced in Nigeria. I also appeal to the manufacturers to make the Set-Top-Boxes affordable for Nigerians.” A Set-Top-Box (STBs) is a little decoder with which viewers could have access to digital contents from different digital television channels, free of subscription. The box comes digitally ready and allows viewers to receive broadband connectivity. The box is self-installed and can be operated with an in-house antenna or indoor antenna. It has a yearly activation fee of N1, 500. It is available everywhere in Lagos at a cost of N12, 000.

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