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Zimbabwe runs out of cash to complete analogue-to-digital transition

by Staff reporter
10 Jun 2017 at 22:39hrs | Views
COMPLETION of analogue-to-digital transition by year-end is no longer possible due to financial logjams, The Sunday Mail Society has learnt.

The digitisation programme is being carried out by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and Transmedia Corporations. Digital migration relates to television broadcasting, and is a process led by the International Telecommunications Union to improve the quality and quantity of programming globally.

The project appeared to be on course after Government last year released US$16,2 million for digitisation. But indications are that arrears of around US$10 million are stalling progress. Further, BAZ is failing to make international payments to buy equipment due to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe transaction controls designed to limit a cash shortage in the country.

BAZ chief executive Obert Muganyuri said the 2017 digitisation completion deadline was no longer attainable. Zimbabwe switched off part of its analogue broadcasting system two years ago in the first phase of the migration to digital broadcasting in compliance with the June 17, 2015 ITU deadline. The strategy was to start with the periphery and then move inland. "It is no longer possible for us to meet the 2017 deadline even if we are to get all the funds required. We were supposed to get the money at stipulated times to enable us to ship the required equipment and set up the infrastructure. In short we have lost a substantial amount of time. Similar challenges also saw us missing the second phase 2016 deadline," said Muganyuri.

"Apart from improper funding, we are also having challenges in making foreign payments with the little money we have due to restrictions put in place by relevant authorities. We cannot transfer funds into nostro accounts for the procurement of equipment." As a counter-measure BAZ recently made an arrangement with one international supplier to deposit US$5 million into a local company's account. The transaction facilitated release of equipment that had been held in storage due to non-payment.

This includes digital transmission equipment for six sites, FM transmission equipment for five sites, and electronic news gathering equipment. "We pray for an increased cash flow from Treasury. Finished equipment will not be brought to us unless we pay for it. But this will result in the total cost of the overall project increasing due to incalculable costs like storage fees and interests on debts. We currently owe our suppliers at least US$11 million," added Muganyuri.

About US$48 million has so far been spent on digitisation, with the final bill estimated at US$125 million. However, this does not mean work has stopped. BAZ and Transmedia have digitised two of six television studios, including a master-control-room and play-out-system. Work on the head-end facility has also been completed, including the satellite uplink terminal and digitisation of six transmitter sites out of the 24 that need upgrading. Tower construction work has also been carried out on seven sites from an additional 24 transmitter sites that are set to be constructed. In all, there will be 48 transmission sites.

Also a new satellite dish for signal distribution – only smaller to the one at Mazowe Satellite Station – has been set up at Pockets Hill in Harare. "They are some local works of a civil nature that have continued to take place for example the completion of a new tower in Zvishavane with the expectation to move to Honde Valley and Hwange. However, the workers have slowed down on pace due to lack of confidence in the payment system," said Muganyuri. Muganyuri said Government was continuing to assist content producers through provision of production equipment as well as meeting production costs.

A Content Commission Committee that looks at viable projects is in place, and finished products will be purchased as a way of empowering producers. But independent producers using their own capital have bemoaned delays in project completion. "We are holding on to some of our productions that cannot be screened on the current running system. The equipment we are using is compatible with the digital platform and we feel heavily discouraged with the stalling of the digitisation programme. This is the reason why some of us have resorted to selling our productions to regional channels," complained a Harare-based producer.

Full digitisation will see introduction of a multiple-channel environment on the terrestrial platform, an improved audio-visual reception and programme diversity.

In addition, the platform will also offer provision of other value added services like Electronic Programme Guides, which is a menu-based system providing users with continuously updated menus displaying scheduling information for the current and upcoming programming among other things.

Source - sundaymail