The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies will oppose E-tv’s attempt to delay South Africa’s analogue TV switch-off in the Constitutional Court.

“Any delay in accessing the digital dividend through protracted and unmerited court challenges such as that of E-tv seek to perpetuate digital exclusion,” communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni stated.

“[It] furthers the marginalisation of the poor and majority of our people residing in rural areas.”

News emerged on Friday that E-tv owner eMedia had filed for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court against an earlier High Court ruling regarding the analogue switch-off.

At the same time, E-tv has filed a conditional application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court should its bid to South Africa’s apex court fail.

A full bench of the Pretoria High Court ruled on 28 March that the analogue switch-off must be delayed until end-June.

It was a hollow victory for eMedia, which hoped to delay the digital migration until at least January 2023.

The ruling also didn’t impact the timeline of South Africa’s analogue switch-off.

Just hours before the court’s ruling, industry regulator Icasa announced that it was effectively extending the analogue switch-off to 30 June.

This was to give broadcasters and mobile network operators time to vacate the radio frequency bands in question, Icasa said.

The High Court’s also made its ruling despite hearing that at least 261,000 indigent households would be left without access to TV after the switch-off date.

These households did not register to receive government-subsidised decoder-like set-top boxes by the 31 October 2021 deadline.

It ruled that the analogue switch-off must be delayed to accommodate all the households that registered before the deadline.

However, those who registered late would not be similarly protected.

The court said that the minister must provide set-top boxes to the 261,000 latecomers by 30 September — three months after the new analogue switch-off date.

It ruled that the government had done enough, within its powers, to help qualifying households obtain a set-top box.

eMedia argued in its appeal application that the matter is constitutional as it involves the rights of millions of indigent and vulnerable South Africans.

It stated that these households rely on analogue TV signals to access news, information, and entertainment.

According to eMedia, Ntshavheni would cut off their access without giving affected households enough time to get devices to receive digital TV broadcasts.

Ntshavheni has assured that every household that needs a set-top box will ultimately receive one.

She also emphasised that South Africa’s digital migration was about releasing radio frequency spectrum to improve mobile connectivity across the country.

“The department will work to complete the analogue switch-off as per the Gauteng High Court order,” Ntshavheni said.

“[This is] to ensure the country can move to enjoy the digital dividend for the benefit of all South Africans, in particular the poor and those in rural areas who remain excluded due to the digital divide.”

The frequencies occupied by analogue TV transmissions are known as the “digital dividend”.

A significant proportion of these frequencies were earmarked for mobile operators to use in their cellular networks, and auctioned off by Icasa in March.

Telkom pursued legal action against the auction, but yesterday announced that it had reached an out-of-court settlement with Icasa.

Ntshavheni welcomed the settlement.

“The release of spectrum to the industry will help our country to bridge the digital divide necessary to catapult socio-economic development of our beloved country for the benefit of all the people of South Africa,” she said.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za