While Tanzania is set to celebrate one year since the switchover to digital broadcasting in some regions, including the central business district, Dar es Salaam, neighbouring Kenya is bracing for a similar migration slated for 13th December, this year.
The switchover in Kenya is a crucial step towards compliance to an agreement reached during the Regional Radio communications Conference 2006 (RRC-06), where African countries agreed to Analogue Switch Off (ASO) by 2015.
However, it should be noted that under East African Community (EAC), countries had agreed to switch off analogue by December, 2012, the deadline of which Kenya and other countries missed.
The Communications Radio Technology Expert at Kenyan National Communications Secretariat, Mr Daniel Obam, told a digital dialogue in Dubai recently that Kenya looks at what Tanzania did as a challenge, as well as respecting decisions made in the regional board.
The dialogue hosted by Multchoice Africa was attended by over fifty participants mainly journalists from across Africa under the main theme of 'Digital Migration' and Africa's preparedness to beat the 2015's deadline.
Mr Obam however, defended his country's failure to comply with EAC deadline, saying that it was not deliberate but due to various matters related to preparedness of which the government and other stakeholders found it necessary to address first.
"We have had several deadlines but we have failed to beat them. Various challenges including the ever changing technologies in the digital broadcast, low level of awareness among consumers and budget issues caused the delay," he said.
Mr Obam came out clear that Kenyan government believes that what Tanzania did was right while playing down complaints by consumers, saying that there was no time consumers would be ready if not pushed.
"Experience shows that even in the previous deadlines where we failed to switch off, the number of customers going to purchase Set Top Boxes (STBs) increased when deadline approached but sharply decreased when it was missed," he said.
Such a trend gives an implication that people need to be pushed to make things happen otherwise it may not be possible especially given the fact that the move has cost implications.
The migration in Tanzania and the challenges that followed puts Kenya in a good position to migrate in a smart way, the way that will take into consideration a number of things starting with adequate distribution and quality of signals, quality of STBs, adequate public education and introduction of modern technology in digital broadcast.
For example, at the beginning the plan was to enter digital world in Kenya using DVB-T but the delay has given them an opportunity to upgrade to the modern DVB-T2. "In the process of migrating to digital, Kenya has gone through six stages, in stage four we launched DVB-T2 in April 2012 dropping the previous plan to use DVB-T, we also removed import taxes on STBs as agreed in EAC in 2012," said Mr Obam.
With the removal of duty for decoders it now costs up to 20 dollars or 2,000/- to buy one. Mr Obam believes that the price is widely affordable by Kenyans especially those living in urban areas where the switch off will start.
Other activities at this stage included the 1st deadline for ASO in Nairobi which was missed, followed by massive consumer education also for Nairobi which will be the first city in the country to switch off analogue.
As per the schedule the ASO in Kenya will consist of 4 phases between 0 1 / 1 2 / 1 3 - 3 0 / 0 6 / 2 0 1 4 whereby Nairobi will switch off on 13th December in phase one, followed by Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kisii, Nakuru and Eldoret on 30th March 2014 while all other regions will be included on 30th June 2014.
There are, however, so many challenges in this undertaking but Obam assured the dialogue that there was no room for failure come this December. The ASO in Tanzania came with so many criticisms from various stakeholders including media owners and politicians but the government stood firm.
In April, the government threw its full weight behind a rock-solid stand by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) that there was no way the country could reconsider transition from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The gradual implementation of the 'migration' began on January 1 this year in Dar es Salaam and has since covered more parts of the country. Reiterating TCRA's position, the Minister for Communication, Science and Technology, Prof Makame Mbarawa, said that all relevant stakeholders were fully involved.
The global deadline for the migration as given by the International Telecommunication Union is June 17, 2015 but East African Community member status agreed on a much earlier date. The minister had also associated media owners with "deliberate efforts to undermine the process for selfish ends by misleading and confusing the public on the importance and relevance of the shift".
However, owners have on several occasions denied being against migration to digital broadcasting, only insisting the need for more time to make preparations that would enable the majority of Tanzanians to access information through radio and TV under the new arrangement.
But TCRA has stated categorically that it would not entertain any requests for a rethink on the government's decision although the global deadline is two years away. The RRC-06 was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in mid 2006 under the aegis of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The Conference, among other things, agreed on June 2015 as the cutover date for the transition from analogue to digital television broadcasting. Countries participated in RRC-06 are supposed to embark on preparation to ensure that they abide by the resolutions arrived at the conference.