The Digital Migration Drama in Uganda is just beginning
I have always wondered what really goes wrong with all projects in Africa, timelines are always not kept, costs keep inflating during the project’s life-cycle, meaning poor planning or under-estimated project scope, assuming there is no corruption. When it comes to the digital migration project, many governments in Africa have missed the deadlines. Digital migration is basically the switch over from analog technology to digital in TV broadcasting. Let’s look at last year’s commotion during the SIM card registration process, where the regulator kept postponing the deadline was postponed several times until the deed was done or so we thought
Uganda has already missed its first deadline and has reset it for the end of December 2014. The question to ask is that are we still on track for this second deadline push? According to Paul Kihika, Managing Director of government broadcaster UBC (which is the monopoly signal carrier) said it would consider switching off the Greater Kampala area if there were 1 million set top boxes sold.
Hold on, stop there, please raise your hand if you have a set top box yet!
He further goes on to say that since there are only 50 test set-top boxes in market already in early February, this makes that deadline seem unlikely. All thanks to the delays in type approvals that UCC has to do.
By the way the story has just began and I wonder who made this decision of awarding UBC the only five year signal carrier licence? Being a government body doesn’t automatically qualify it to be best suited to manage the project. It still baffles me up to now, why the hell UBC was given monopoly for signal carriage?
UBC has planned to have national coverage with 28 transmission sites backed up with 40 gap feeders that will cover every town and village in Uganda. This is meant to supply 96 channels in Greater Kampala and 24 channels to the rest of the country. 8 of these channels would be for radio stations.
74.6 Million questions
To answer why UBC was granted the licenses, there is US$74.6 m at stake, set out as the budget for this project which apparently our beloved parliamentarians have refused to release. Currently there is transmission coverage in Greater Kampala but only enough capacity to deliver 40 channels. There were supposed to be 8 transmitters but there are only 4 so far.
According to Kihika, the whole national transmission project would take 6-8 months in total but now that part of the Greater Kampala work has been done, it should only take 4 months. Kihika said that more funding would come when UBC submitted its budget for this financial year. Uganda is unusual in having funded the transition as most countries have relied on either Star Times or Chinese loan funding.
The transmission area goes out to Entebbe and Mityana on the west, to Luwero north of Kampala and beyond the Mabira forest to the east, about two-thirds of the way to Jinja. In all its’s about a 60 kms radius on a line of sight basis. Signal in Mukono is currently weak, but we hope it will be sorted out soon.
The current, international news channels on board so far include- BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera – all willing to pay for transmission of their channels. What will happen to the fate of PayTV is still unknown. Whether the December 2014 deadline will be achieved, we are yet to find out 10 months to go.