Digital Migration: STBs should be subsidized

Kenyans want to love free things way too much. With the coming Digital Migration whose deadline will be confirmed or postponed on December 6th when the High Court offers its advice over the issues that have been raised by some stake holders including Cofek and the Media Owners Association, including the issue on STBs prices and availability, a few Kenyans have called on the Government to provide the STBs free of charge; the same way the Government intends to provide the free laptops to class one kids.

I agree with those complaining over the prices of STBs. At a time when simple TVs can be bought at Kshs 6,000 or less, asking Kenyans to pay Kshs 5,000 for a Set Top Box is very unreasonable. A number of those with the simple TVs struggled or saved for months to acquire their gadgets, and giving them less than two months to have an STB priced close to the TV they already have means technically locking them out of TV viewing.

The pricing issue is what made Cofek go the courts and managed to obtain a postponement of the deadline from December 2012. To my surprise when I check the STBs prices, there wasn’t any significant change from the previous Kshs 4,000 that Cofek had complained about. Currently the STBs on offer retail at Kshs 3,500 for the cheapest ones to well over Kshs 50,000 for premium gadgets. Based on quality of pictures to be viewed, the STBs that I would advice viewers to spend their money on are basically those retailing between Kshs 4,500 to Kshs 10,000.

It is clear that not many will be able to afford STBs valued above Kshs 1,000; at least not immediately. Switching off the Analogue Signal by December 13th means very many households will be sent to darkness as far as information and entertainment is concerned. Even though I am not a proponent of deadline postponement, this is what I would advice the Government and Media Owners to do immediately:

  • They should subsidize the cost of STBs so that the cheapest (three to five brands) can be available at less than Kshs 1,000. I hope the Government is not asking for VAT on these devices. All other importation taxes should also be zero rated.
  • They should gather, continuously, statistics of households already with the Set Boxes before the switch off. For instance they can say that when the 95% of households in Nairobi have the STBs installed, then a week later the switch off is done.

If the government with support of Media Owners will work out how they can give us subsidized STBs, then I don’t see why some of us should continue demanding for the STBs to be free. The argument that the US government gave citizens the STBs free of charge also does not apply here. To my understanding the US government provided the STBs at subsidized prices for a limited period of time. Even if some could have received them for free, we should understand that for some reasons this Government is badly in need of money that offering the STBs absolutely free to the millions of households will be quite a challenge.

Hope someone listened. In the meantime beware of StarTimes’ FTA Decoder—> Digital Migration: Consumer Federation warns Kenyans against StarTimes STB decoder


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