• 850,000 set top boxes to decode digital terrestrial TV have already been delivered.
  • But the boxes do not support encryption, contrary to ANC policy.
  • Either policy or boxes will have to change – and that is now Nomvula Mokonyane's problem.

Brand new communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane has a literal mountain to overcome: a mountain of 850,000 set-top boxes for digital television.

That is the number of boxes already delivered, the communications department told Business Day, with another 650,000 already ordered.

Each box is capable of plugging into the back of a standard television set built to receive analogue broadcast signals and allow it to display the digital broadcast signals that South Africa is due to start using in a little over a year.

What they are not capable of is decrypting pay-TV signals, even though that is in violation of the policy of the ruling ANC.

The ANC has consistently held that digital broadcasting must allow for pay-TV channels to challenge the effective monopoly held by satellite broadcaster DSTV.

If the government-subsidised set-top boxes do not support encryption, each company that wants to provide pay channels will have to distribute its own boxes.

Then communications minister Faith Muthambi fought challenges to her decision not to include encryption in set top boxes right up the to the Constitutional Court, and won. Her successor Ayanda Dlodlo seemed intent on including encryption before she was removed from the job. Her successor, and Mokonyane's immediate predecessor, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, changed the position again. 

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