What You Need to Know About the Digital Migration in Kenya

It was announced recently by the Communications Authority in Kenya that the migration from analog to digital will be taking place this December, 6 months before the global deadline of June 17, 2015, a year filled with world-altering events, I reckon and the interesting thing is the previous naysayers like the Consumers Federation of Kenya are now embracing the move, I wonder what the real reason for the turn is, anyway, the question begs, is this another bluff that broadcasters are going to call or is the Communications Authority going to stand by its word this time. I believe in the shift, yes the consumer digital devices are still going to cost a significant penny, but I believe if you push the industry forward and there is mass demand, then there is going to be competitive pricing amongst retailers that ultimately benefits the consumer, as we currently see in the market, decoders have never been this cheap, prices will go down in the foreseeable near-term.

So, why is there so much fuss, especially the ones caused by the media houses over the shift, sure there are conditions that need to be met to ensure that the switching is legal, transparent and streamlined to ensure that all parties to this particular venture are satisfied. Kenyans need to understand that the country has an obligation under the International Telecommunication Union (even all the appellants who went to court are in agreement), WHICH she acceded to during the ITU convention of 1964 (I wasn’t even born, it appears that my digital fate was set a long time ago) where by virtue of this accessation, Kenya would be BOUND by the doctrine of Pact Sunta Servanta wherefore she is subject to any international treaty obligations initiated by the ITU. Here we see the delicate balance between a country’s sovereignty and its international obligations. Kenya, my dear country-folk participated in both conferences namely (Regional Radio Conference) RRC-04 and RRC-06 from whence it made representations (who comes up with these names, upon my word!). I should note that latter conference, the RRC-06 is the one set the international migration date (ASO) date of June 17 2015, that was in 2006 when this was determined. In fulfillment of its international mandate, Kenya returned home to set up its own home-grown ICT policy effective March, 2006, after which it made a report that was submitted to the RRC-06 conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Mind you fellow country-folk, Kenya also took part in drawing the resolutions derived at the RRC-06, popularly referenced to in the local court proceedings as the Final Acts of the RRC-06, is it me or does that sound like a play during the Elizabethan times, Shakespeare would have had much to write about in this unfolding drama of digital migration, perhaps whose Final Act would have transpired when the December 31 deadline reached, or so we thought, the drama continues.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya main reason for the opposition was the pricing of the set-top digital boxes where to acquire them will set you off from 4,000-6,000KES for free-to-air type-boxes. Set Top boxes for Pay Tv channels such as Zuku, GoTv, StarTimes, DStv, et cetera will cost you KES 3,000 with monthly subscriptions fees starting from 500KES; this is still a tall-order for most Kenyans (perhaps you might consider getting the latest item on the market-Bamba Tv decoder that retails at KES 3,299 for Free-for-Life viewing time). A multi-pronged approach towards bringing the prices downwards would go a long way in the uptake of the devices. CCK published a list of recommended boxes in the Digital Kenya website, which is the brand name for the process of migration from analogue to digital broadcasting in Kenya. The site has the type, price and where it can be obtained, that’s convenient.

Media houses filed a petition dated November 22nd 2013 that was rejected by Justice Majanja in the winter of 2013 23 December 2013, from where they moved to the Court of Appeal that brought to fore concerns as regards the freedom of media and licensing of its operations as provided for in the Constitution with singular reference to Articles 33 and 34. The basic issues that were raised in court involved such concepts equitable procurement for the distribution of the digital signal. One of the terms of the policies of digital migration was that there be separate licensing for content providers and digital signal distributors service providers. Effectively, this was supposed to make the industry more competitive in order to ameliorate on the service delivery to the consumers, allegedly in line with the provisions of the law and the regulations. The licensing bids were floated through the tendering process where the appellants, basically the media houses took part through their flagship National Networks Signals and lost the bid in the first round. Consequently, they appealed to the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board which they also lost (these people are swimming against the tide). Following that loss, they then again appealed to the then Permanent Secretary for Information and Communication who offered them a conditional license that they rejected and in lieu turned to court with a smorgasbord of litigation from here to the moon, the losing streak went on. At the end of it all, it is all a game of interests, each wanting the maximum share of benefits to be had from this undertaking.

At the moment, the country only has 60% digital coverage from the two licensed digital signal distributors. The aforementioned case has been holding the digital leap hostage, not to mention the 40% coverage deficit. Totally, the digital signal in the country is now three percent above the distribution ratio of the analogue one. As a matter of fact, the digital signal covers areas which had never known any form of Tv signal, Virgin Country I tell you! This dispels the notion that Kenya is behind in the migration because it’s one thing to migrate, but it’s another to have efficient coverage. The shift to digital terrestrial television (DDT) in the developed nations is complete. For instance, in the U.S., the move was concluded in 2009, these include countries from Europe. One thing you should know is that in DTT, up to 10 television channels can be accommodated utilizing the same bandwidth that would normally only do so a single channel. Nairobi will have up to 99 channels once the migration is complemented. I should also emphasize that the December deadline only covers Nairobi and its environs while for the rest of the country has been pushed off by March in the year 2015 and if you haven’t acquired a digital telly or a set-top box, then you can kiss good riddance your favorite Tv programs.

The road to a Digital Shangri-La or nirvana has been dogged by good intentions and more so, ironies abound. The media houses who have been engaged in a flurry of litigation have been part of the Digital Television Committee that was set up back in 2008 whose mandate was to make decisions regarding digital migration (I have used these words so many times I am starting to feel like a time-traveler, I wish to move to such words as ‘digitally migrated’). For example, the DTC in 2013 re-constituted the Consumer Awareness Sub-Committee that was tasked with providing the DTC with the strategic advice on the required education and awareness activities on the digital migration process in Kenya. Notably, with the impending ASO (analogue switch off), it is a prerequisite that the DTC focuses on the facilitation of the migration of Kenyans to the digital platform with the slightest disruption of service provision on one leg and service reception by the consumers on the other. The media houses together with the government, CAK and other civil societies in the DTC. In consideration of the recommendations of the DTC, a landmark process was initiated-Kenya adopted the DVB T2 MPEG 4 video compression standard and saw the award of licences of two broadcast signal distributors. The East African region has seen Tanzania and Rwanda migrate fully.

So what, you might ask, what is the benefit to me besides not being locked out of the Tv-click, well perhaps this might convince you- your viewer experience will be enhanced through better picture quality and sound quality, you’ll get more choice (for me this was an issue, and that’s why the media houses have been engaged in fierce litigation, they have monopolized the industry with very little regard for quality), you’ll be able channels that meet your standards of quality, so thumbs up for that! Additionally, you have more access in that the set-top boxes and televisions have built-in interface points for your cell phone, memory stick, and modem (I once was watching a series where one of the characters in the screenplay said something that stuck with me since-“who watches TV on TV anymore?”, you can also ponder that!). You have better viewing pleasure through High Definition Resolution, you have access to an electronic program guide that helps you navigate, identify the current screening program and even see the proceeding program, this way you have efficient timing of your viewing activity. At the end of the day, there is better utilization of signals.

The projections are that in the Sub-Saharan Africa corridor, the number of homes with both free-to-air and pay DTT will reach 33.8 million by 2018. I don’t about you, but I believe the content habit of Kenyans will evolve as the migration sets in, being exposed to global television and ye local television will be quite bolstering to existing social constructs, basically, society will evolve! It is the whole anthropology of television; the mirror with which society can behold itself in the fullest extent.


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