DSO: NBC activates digital broadcasting project in Lagos April 29

*Industry stakeholders have expressed concerns that corruption and poor conception of the Digital Switchover project, again, may frustrate the process

*The National Broadcasting Commission, however, assures consumers that the Federal Government has made adequate provision for a successful migration of Nigeria to a digital broadcasting ecosystem

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Following two failed attempts to activate the Digital Switchover (DSO) project, Lagos State is expected to officially transition from analogue to digital broadcasting Thursday, April 29.

ConsumerConnect gathered this activation is part of the timetable in a renewed effort by the Federal Government to switch Nigeria on to the digital broadcasting system.

Digital Switchover in Nigeria

In line with the timeline for the rollout of the DSO project across the country as Lagos State goes digital tomorrow, the Federal Capital City (FCT), Abuja, will follow May 30, while the Switchover in Kano State is slated for June 3; Rivers, July 8; Yobe, July 15; and Gombe, August 12.

In the same order, that of Plateau, Kaduna, Kwara, Enugu and Osun states will follow in June, August and September 2021 respectively.

However, some stakeholders in the broadcast industry still do not believe that Nigeria has got the transition process right, reports Vanguard.

Such individuals and organisations hold that the Lagos switching as much as others to follow are going to be merely “political gatherings” rather than practical technical activities required for the success of the project in the country, report stated.

They were said to have expressed fears that the DSO completion, expected to take three years, is under threat from corruption and ill-conception.

It is recalled that after Nigeria alongside other 119-member countries in 2006 signed up to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) protocol to transition from Analogue to Digital Broadcasting by 2015 in line with global trend, Nigeria had given itself a task of concluding the transition process by June 17 2012, three years before deadline.

Subsequently, in a bid to achieve the 2012 migration date, the Federal Government approved the process in 2007, and in 2008, it inaugurated a Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The committee submitted a report with several recommendations on how the country will achieve its objective in this regard.

Yet, for what several stakeholders have described as lack of political will, the government has kept silent on the report and failed to release a whitepaper on it for three years.

Accordingly, the country failed to comply with the June 17, 2012 digital migration deadline it had earlier set for itself to attain the DSO.

After missing the migration in 2012, the government resorted to the main ITU deadline of June 17, 2015 and quickly inaugurated a 14-man team tagged, Digiteam Nigeria.

Again, for what industry sources described as lack of trust between the government and broadcasters in the process, Nigeria failed again, joining 51 other African countries at that time, which did not meet the June 17, 2015 deadline.

The implication of that particular goof was that analogue signals from Nigerian broadcasting stations would receive no protection in the event of interference with or from digital signals from neighbouring countries.

Because there were reports that if the analogue transmitters should interfere with any digital broadcast in the neighbouring countries, ITU can force the country to shut down its own analogue transmitters, Nigeria appealed to the organisation for an extension to June 2017.

With this new focus, the Federal Government began a gradual transmission from analogue to digital broadcasting in Jos, Plateau State, and Abuja, and gradually cascade down to other states across the Federation.

These schemes were planned to set the pace for the second phase which is taking off tomorrow.

In spite of these concerns, the National Broadcasting Commission, at a recent stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, disclosed that the Federal Government has made adequate provision for a successful migration of the country to a digital broadcasting system.

Besides the Federal Government’s releasing N9.4 billion, NBC reportedly appears excited that the setting up of a 14-member ministerial task force to drive the process would do justice to the process.

More so, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, supported this stance, saying that in view of the huge benefits that Nigeria will derive from the migration, the government will not fail to complete the process this time around.

Engr Edward Amana, Chairman of DigiTeam, said: “As instructed by the ITU, Nigeria must switch off analogue television transmission and ‘go digital Switching over 22 million TV households to a more efficient and effective TV technology with clearer pictures and more choices for viewers is the aim of the Digital Switch Over (DSO) programme.

The National Broadcasting Commission and the DSO Ministerial Task Force are tasked with ensuring that Nigeria ‘digitises’ and developing a public information and awareness campaign to inform citizens about DSO/FreeTV.

In terms of the DSO benefits to stakeholders and consumers, the Minister stated that “there are a lot of benefits to derive in DSO.”

Mohammed explained: “When the process is completed and there is Analogue Switch Off, the spectrum band to be vacated by broadcasters would be ceded to the telecom regulatory agency for sale and use in the mobile broadband industries.

“The spectrum is worth over one billion Dollars. Besides, the huge revenue it will generate for the country, the DSO would change the entire creative industry ecosystem and is capable of creating one million jobs in three years.

“The government would ensure its successful completion.”

Nevertheless, a Jos-based broadcast engineer, who solicited anonymity, explained that a major hindrance to the Switchover process is the dodgy handling of monies earmarked for the first phase of the journey by those in charge, according to report.

The engineer pointed to the N2.5billion corruption scandal that erupted from the 2017 payment of seed grant to a private company, in breach of the guidelines of the Federal Government Whitepaper on Digital Migration, which led to the suspension and eventual arraignment of a former Director-General of the NBC by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC.

“The suspended NBC Director-General, if you recall, is facing charges related to intent to defraud the Federal Government by paying the said sum to a company that was not entitled to receive such grant.

“His suspension and arraignment followed petitions to the ICPC by stakeholders. Payment of the grant was allegedly approved by his supervising Minister who, curiously, was not charged along with the suspended DG,” said he.

The expert described the recent approval of N9.4billion by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), as payments to key DSO stakeholders, as “a standing invitation” to those that mismanaged monies earmarked for the first phase.

According to him, most of the stakeholders paid for the first phase are unable to justify payments received, as evidenced by the lack of DSO infrastructure and a halt to the programme since 2018.

ConsumerConnect recalls the Minister for Information and Culture February 2021 announced the approval of N9.4billion for payment of outstanding payments major DSO stakeholders.

According to him, the move will take care of the funding problems that have hindered the programme in the last three years.

Another broadcast engineer, based in Lagos, was also quoted to have disclosed that the source of the money for the DSO second phase expenditure was the N34billion paid by MTN Communications for broadcast frequency.

He noted that most of those to be paid from this sum are those unable to justify the payments received for the project thus far.

One of the licensed signal carriers, affiliated to the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), got N1.7 billion for the commencement of the DSO, but is dependent on the infrastructure of a major Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) operator’s network coverage in just four cities across the country, he noted.

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