The African Continent has witnessed significant changes since the advent of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the region within the past two decades, this revolution which has engulfed the entire world is visible through the immense capabilities of the internet, seamless communications provided by telecommunications networks and the more recent advancements in digital broadcasting; which promises better pictures and sound, uses spectrum more efficiently, allows for more interactivity and opens up new economic and competitive paradigms.1 It is as a result of these that Kemilinks International in collaboration with the National Broadcasting Corporation(NBC) recently organised a stakeholders forum in line with other switchover conferences around the world to ensure a smooth migration from analog to digital platforms.
Nigeria can today boast of 100 radio stations, 147 television stations 35 cable operators, 4 direct to home and 4 direct broadcast satellite stations. 2 Democracy brought in its wings an end to many government controlled media monopolies, private radio and television stations flourish in most parts of the country owing to the liberalization policies pursued by the then undemocratic government. The launch of the PAS4 commercial satellite in 1995 Marked the beginning of new opportunities and challenges for African broadcasting, PanAmSat which was the operator of PAS4 took control of programming distribution and reception away from governments, this it was able to achieve as INTELSAT signatories.
One of the most influential players in Africa is Multi-choice Africa (MCA) the South- African based company launched its bouquet of Dstv services in 1995 and today provides digital satellite transmission and analogue services to over 5 million households in more than 40 countries. However it must be noted that its monopoly in Nigeria is about to be broken due to sovereignty issues being raised by the minister of information and national orientation as to whether multi-choice a South- African company can acquire broadcasting rights on behalf of a sovereign nation – Nigeria. These developments point to the fact that Nigeria needs to develop a policy framework towards meeting the migration targets of 2015-2028 recommended by the international telecommunications union (ITU) 3 for developing countries.
What is Digital Broadcasting?
It is a new technological infrastructure for broadcasting, which allows a broadcaster to transmit multiple streams of programmes simultaneously. It promises about five times better picture and sound quality compared to current signals and delivered through Digital video broadcasting (DVB) and Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) technologies.4
It also has the capability of providing ancillary services such as video and data services, subscription television programming, computer software distribution, data transmissions and interactive services. This inevitably provides a platform that will allow broadcasters compete with other multi-channel technologies such as cable and direct broadcast satellite systems. The long term benefits of Digital Broadcasting can be seen in terms of lower transmission costs, better access to news, entertainment and education resources, leveraging the business environment
by providing new tools for entrepreneurial development and ultimately assisting government reforms in meeting the millennium development goals(MDG’s).
Convergence of the regulatory Agencies
The first challenge for the Nigerian environment is that of infrastructure deployment mainly because of the capital requirements for meeting migration targets, but more importantly ICT regulatory agencies like the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) should be contemplating a merger in the light of the necessary wave of technology convergence that has engulfed Information technology, Telecommunications and Broadcasting, this is a case of what technology has brought together policy cannot put asunder; it is delightful to note in this regard that government has set up a committee headed by the Secretary to the Federation to look into a unification of all government ICT bodies, apart from conserving resources for the nation, it will assist in providing a common focus for terrestrial ICT development. This is in line with global best practice where in the UK the Office of Communications (OFCOM), is the overall agency for handling all ICT matters; the scenario is similar in the US where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides the regulatory functions. There is no doubt that the foregoing has implications for e-commerce law reforms and enforcement. A unanimous view held by ICT players is that the major hindrance to the implementation of new technologies is antiquated legislation, consumer protection and regulatory uncertainty.
The first task of the NBC under the current regulatory regime in line with its responsibilities under section 2(1)(d),(e) and (s) respectively to the effect that it should regulate and control, undertake research and development and also serve as national consultants on legislative and regulatory issues of the broadcasting industry; 5 it is recommended that a digital broadcasting working group(DBWG) be immediately set up to fashion out a migration policy from analogue to digital broadcasting, this will facilitate a programme of development in line with global trends to create workable timeframes for migration in the light of the peculiarities of the country, because one of the factors that may hinder the transition will be the cost of converting analogue infrastructure, attention also needs to be given to the parallel operation of both technologies to facilitate a smooth changeover, broadcasters will also be required to develop agreements with technology providers that will be beneficial to all stakeholders.
Other specific action in meeting timescales may be in the direction of conducting a national diagnostic survey of current and future needs of media, television services and frequency bands; assignment of frequencies for DAB; introduction of digital systems (DVB and DAB) – and the provision of programmes and services at market-based, user-friendly conditions and finally a review of international approaches and capacity building.6
Legal and regulatory Concerns
Reactions arising out of regulatory discourse in many switchover conferences worldwide have centred around; whether legislation be introduced specifically for digital broadcasting, whether existing legislation needs to be amended to cater for
new converged and digital television services, on what basis should digital broadcasting licenses be awarded, should existing broadcasting licenses be granted automatic renewal of their existing analogue licenses, what preparations are being made for allocation of spectrum, what will be the new rules for competition, and the review of the digital broadcasting code as to source digital content to meet new demands.
For the answer to the first issue lessons can be drawn from the United States approach which has promulgated the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 20057 It empowers the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take such actions as are necessary to terminate all licenses for full- power television stations in the analogue television service, and also to require the cessation of analogue broadcasting by February 18, 2009. The FCC is also required by the same law to conduct an auction of the recovered spectrum not later than 28 January 2008. This timeframe may not apply to Nigeria but it highlights the definiteness of political will to bring about quick benefits of ICT for US citizens. Secondly there is no doubt that some aspects of our National Broadcasting Commission Act needs to be upgraded to reflect current trends. For instance section 2(1) (b) (i) the powers of the NBC can be extended to the review of applications for digital broadcasting the use of the phrase ‘any other medium of broadcasting’ is too vague considering the novel technological digital platform that digital broadcasting provides.
Thirdly, existing holders of analogue licenses should be encouraged to develop workable timeframes for migration but this should not foreclose new-entrants with technical and financial capacity to take advantage of these new developments
provided that they shall comply with the overall objectives of the National Mass Communications Policy.8
Digital Broadcasting Licence
It is suggested that the proposed (DBWG) should as part of its roadmap require that new digital broadcasting licences be issued to both old and new entrants into the market, this will not only assist government generate new revenue that may be useful in jumpstarting the new technology but also help in giving a uniform policy direction to the initial take off of this new technological platform. Furthermore in the light of the macro- economic implications of the migration from analogue to digital technologies it is recommended that a digital migration fund be created to cushion the initial take-off challenges.
A corollary to the above is the issue of effective management of spectrum which under the present regulatory regime is both the responsibility of the NBC and NCC of course with oversight functions from the ministry of communications, because the inefficient management of spectrum will place no obligations on incumbent terrestrial operators of broadcasting to want to convert quickly to a digital system, however a well managed spectrum regime based on fair, non-discriminatory competition rules will in no small way encourage new entrants to adopt cost saving strategies that will ultimately trickle down to the consumers lessons can be borrowed from recent developments in our telecommunication sector.
National Broadcasting Code
The National Broadcasting Code actually tries to address ethical and public policy issues; the said code is currently under review as to look at more critically how equitable airtime shall be given to political programmes, education, religion and entertainment, will there be new paradigms under a digital broadcasting environment vis-à-vis foreign content, February 1, 2004 Super Bowl telecast is still fresh in our minds; it was the day of the Janet Jackson infamous wardrobe malfunction, the FCC the US regulatory body was quick to sanction Viacom the Owners of CBS a fine of $550,000 for the indecent exposure, the NBC should be ready rise to face such challenges.9 Considering NBC’s non- punitive but preventive policy.
The attendant benefits of digital broadcasting are not in doubt, opportunities to provide better images and sound quality; lower transmission costs and the ability to transmit more channels, better efficiency in spectrum use; as more data can be transmitted through the same bandwidth coupled with enhanced television viewing and fully interactive applications. However these benefits may elude us if strategic policy interventions are not started now, we ought to remind ourselves as a nation that there is no re-inventing the wheel ICT’s have remained a consistent driver of economic growth in countries where government have provided the required policy directions and leadership. The necessary framework for success in most countries are; National policy setting out goals of digital broadcasting migration, new digital licensing regime, international agreements on spectrum planning, and market studies to determine the need for different services, the time to start is now.