Business

ESP: Digital switchover gets N15bn lifeline

●FG to fast-track project

The country’s belaboured moves to switch over to digital broadcasting is set to be enlivened as the Federal Government plans to inject N15 billion into the project in the next 12 months.

This was part of government’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) released recently to tackle the effects of COVID-19 on the nation’s economy.
Nigeria’s digital switchover journey, which started since 2007, has dilly-dallied over the years, thus leaving the country behind even after the June 17, 2015 deadline fixed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for all countries to have completely switched off analogue broadcasting.

Aside from other logistics issues, funding has been a major impediment to the project, according to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
Industry stakeholders have estimated that the country will require up to N45 billion to achieve complete switchover.

But, according to the new economic plan, the N15 billion will be channelled towards the acceleration of production of components for the DSO equipment.
“The ongoing national Digital Switchover Programme (DSO) will be accelerated to support the process of the Analogue Switch Off (ASO) freeing up the spectrum for resale and deliver the benefits of Digital Television,” the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osibajo stated in the plan.

The committee added that the DSO would underpin the development of a sound digital economy in Nigeria, and create jobs around the manufacturing, installation and maintenance of associated equipment and expand jobs in the creative sector (including presenters, producers, content creators, actors) which will now have enhanced outlets for distribution of creative content.
Specifically, at a time many Nigerian businesses and individuals are relying heavily on the internet, government said it was hoping to reduce the cost of internet access in the country through the accelerated DSO.
“The DSO programme will reduce the cost of internet services and increase broadband penetration in Nigeria as well as provide opportunities for audience management which will add value to the Nigerian advertising sector,” the Committee stated.
Other benefits of the programme will include an increase in digital television penetration across the country and provide an opportunity for increased revenue generation from the sale of the vacated spectrum.
In the next 12 months, government said it would be developing digital infrastructure in strategic locations and gap fillers installed in difficult to reach areas while engaging with equipment manufacturers to expand manufacturing in preparation for roll-out.
With the fund, it said it would also implement a public engagement campaign on the DSO programme for adaptation.
Other targets of government in the accelerated programme include developing amendments to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act to meet the needs of the DSO programme; establishing a content development fund to improve content; establishing a test factory to ensure DSO equipment meet specified standards; and strengthening monitoring facilities of the NBC to meet the regulatory needs in the digital era and buy-back of analogue transmitters.

As a signatory to the Geneva 2006 Agreement on Transition from Analogue to Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting, alongside member states of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Region 1, Nigeria was to have achieved full digitisation of broadcasting by June 17, 2015.
Indeed, being one of the earliest countries to start preparations for the migration in 2007, Nigeria was expected to be one of the first countries to achieve the switchover, even before the internationally agreed deadline.
However, as of now, the country has only succeeded in digitising broadcasting in six out of 36 states of the country. While stakeholders have blamed the country’s lethargic move on several factors, which include lack of political will, corruption, among others, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is driving the project, has consistently fingered poor funding as a major obstacle.
Highlighting challenges facing the country’s digital switchover project at a recent meeting, the Chairman of the NBC, Alhaji Aliyu Bibis, said that dearth of funds had stopped the country from progressing.
He stated this while urging the National Assembly to help strengthen the NBC Act in other to give the commission the impetus to achieve results and measure up the digital standard expected of a regulator of broadcasting in the digital era.

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