Digital migration: two new licences from NTA soon

By Kokumo Goodie, Lagos, Nigeria

State-run broadcasting firm, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) operations will be split into two completely independent parts pursuant to achieving the digital switch over (DSO) in line with the directive of International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

According the Director General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Emeka Mba, the NTA is planning to set up a new transmission company which will be licenced by the NBC.

Mba, who spoke yesterday at a Digital Migration Summit, lamented that a lack of funding and external factors could derail the programme.  He said the process of establishing a new transmitting company is underway, adding that the process will be finalised in June while the pilot scheme schedule for Jos, Plateau State will follow suit.

According to Mba, the migration process would require several billions of naira, adding however that the "heavens will not fall if Nigeria fails to meet the June 2015 deadline, but there are grave consequences for the country."

The NBC chief said the fundamental implication of failing to meet the deadline would be signal interference from other countries which might have migrated. In addition, he said the country will not be competitive in the global digital arena, while the new businesses expected to spring up as a result of digitalisation will be defeated.

Shedding more light on the proposed transmission  company, Mba said there is already a government White Paper on the digitisation process which stressed the use of NTA as signal carrier for transmission, adding that the NTA Act is in the process of being repealed by legislature.  According to him, the new transmission firm will be run on  Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis. Also speaking on the occsaion, Edward Amana, chairman of the Digiteam, said Expression of Interest (EoI) has been received while 19 firms have  emerged. Nine of them have been prequalified, out of which only one will emerge as signal distributor.

"The nine companies have six weeks to submit their technical and financial report", he stated. On the issue of funding, Bello Tukur, deputy chairman, senate committe on information, said that there are concerns that the national assembly is not doing anything currently towards the appropriation of requisite funding to support the digital migration process. He said, "The 2014 appropriation bill has not been signed into law and there are a lot of reason for the delay. We budget on the basis of what we have, the revenues we earn." However, Tukur said, "For the digitisation project, it depends on how you present your case to the house. You can still make representations even if it means going through special funds." Responding Mba hinted that the commission is contemplating setting up a broadcasting fund to drive content development in the sector, adding that NBC is weighing the option of multi-lateral funding agency at single digit interest rates.

While calling for the support of all broadcasters, Mba said the Jos pilot scheme will determine the shape of things, adding that digitisation is an opportunity to reinvent television in Nigeria. Sunday Olu Jetro, deputy chairman, Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU), who said there is no legislation backing the digitisation process in the country, expressed reservation about governments sincerity toward actualising the digital migration. "Many state governments are still placing orders for analogue transmitters. State governments have no made commitment to digitisation. Stakeholders should look at the dangers of switching over without the enabling law in a country yet to distinguish between politics and governance."

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