Tonight is the night for switching off the analogue signal in Nairobi and its environs. This means millions of homes will be in information darkness as millions still do not have the STB decoders. Also, the mainstream media is not ready to give their signals for digital broadcast. They have since promised that they will go off air come 11:59PM tonight. We as part of a fringe media in Kenya have praised Digital Migration and faulted the main stream media for their unpatriotic decision of giving Digital Migration a total blackout since June this year. It’s just the media that is at fault, the government also has its own shortcomings and today we want to talk about these shortcomings by the Government.
The main stream media are complaining about three main things:
- The STB decoders available in the market too expensive for majority of Kenyans – true
- More than 99.5% of Kenyans still do not have the STB decoders – true
- The licensing for distribution of digital signal has not been fairly awarded – true
STB decoders are too expensive
On average, the low end STB decoders are available at Kshs 5,000. Most Kenyan’s monthly shopping basket is below Kshs 3,000 which means for these Kenyans to spend over Kshs 3,000 at once is a big sacrifice. The high price level simply speaks for Government’s shortcoming as it should have ensured availability of the decoders at a price point most consumers are willing to pay for.
The main reason Digital Migration was postpone last year was because the STBs were way too expensive at a price range above Kshs 4,000. Consumer Federation was able to win the court cases then. The main argument in courts was that before Digital Migration Programme is rolled out, the STBs were to cost as less as Kshs 800 to make them affordable to majority of Kenyans. But one year later we are still taking about prices above Kshs 4,000 per decoder.
I believe that the government has had and still has the capacity to ensure that consumers get the decoders at affordable price range. I do think that a price range of Kshs 2,000 to Kshs 4,000 for most decoders would be acceptable across board. The FOB prices of some of these decoders are as cheap of Kshs 1,200 a piece meaning they can sell at Kshs 2,000 if they were 100% tax free. Why doesn’t the government want majority of Kenyans to acquire the STBs before they can switch off the analogue signal?
99% of Kenyans are yet to acquire STBs
This is to a large extent tied to the STB pricing but also significantly tied to public’s lack of proper information on Digital Migration. The government declined to listen to the complains from the media houses and as a result the media houses decided to give Digital Migration a blackout. This blackout has made Kenyans believe in a number of peddled myths top in the list being that viewers will be required to pay monthly subscription to watch digital content.
Before NTV, KTN, QTV and Citizen TV went off air on 23rd and 24th this month, not many Kenyans new anything about Digital Migration. How would they then know of the need to have STBs or even know anything about STBs if no one is educating them about Digital Migration? This lack of information, as much as the government would like to blame it on media houses, is as a result of Government’s own undoing as it refused to pay attention to some valid concerns raised by the media houses. There are also rumors that the government has not properly funded Digital Migration campaigns that’s why there have been no TV and radio ads from CCK about this migration. Remember CCK ran ads on SIM card registration? Why can’t they run ads on Digital Migration?
Government awarded a foreigner and itself digital signal distribution licenses
This and the previous Government have been talking about empowering Kenyans. A government cannot empower Kenyans by giving jobs that Kenyans can and should do to itself and to foreigners. Yes the government must have opportunities for generating income away from taxation, but the government cannot do this by locking out Kenyans who want to generate income from same sectors. Government monopolies have led to poor services and dictatorship in the past and I don’t expect any current or future government monopolies to be any better.
The media houses have raised concerns regarding the license that was awarded to Pan-Africa Network Group (Kenya) Co. Ltd as the second distributor of digital signal. To address this concern, the government agreed, in June this year, to give a third license to a consortium owned by the major media houses for digital signal distribution (Read: Third broadcast signal distribution licence to be issued). But as the media owners waited to participate in the tendering process, the government changed its mind and withdrew the offer.
The media houses have valid points. They question why a Chinese firm was issued with a license for a job that Kenyans can do and do very well. They are also wondering why they are being denied a third license, more so after the government itself had seen the rationale and agreed to issue a third license. My questions are:
- Why has the government limited the license to itself (KBC) and a foreign company? Could be the accusations by the media houses that the government intends to use Digital Migration to gag the media be true?
- Why did the government agree to issue a third license after they saw the logic in the arguments by the media houses then change its mind without giving out satisfactory technical or otherwise explanations?
- Is it possible that someone arm twisted the government that led to the change in mind in regards to the agreement to issue a third license? If so, who arm twisted the government and for how much? The media houses have sensationally claimed that the Chinese firm paid 5% of the license fee to some people in the government for the withdrawal of the third license offer. How true is this? Shouldn’t someone do investigations?
When the media houses say that their billions of investments in broadcast masts (transmitters) will go to waste, they should be listened to. These masts only need to be upgraded to broadcast digital signal, a cheaper alternative than investing in new masts all over the country. The government ought to be in the forefront in protecting local businesses, be they big multibillion investments or the thousand worth of investment in the local estate. If we can’t rely on the government to protect our investments against unwarranted government and foreign competition, who will we run to?
As much as the push for Digital Migration by the government is for the overall good, and we at Kachwanya.com are in full support of the programme, there are serious Government’s shortcomings on Digital Migration that ought to be properly addressed, quickly. Probably it is too late for Nairobians but before this programme is rolled out countrywide, it will be necessary to straighten up every concern as a matter of priority.