Millions locked out as Kenya TV goes digital

By James Ratemo, Nairobi, Kenya

As the world witnessed the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting on Wednesday midnight, over 1.3 million Kenyan households remained in blackout.

This is because they are yet to acquire set-top boxes, gadgets which convert digital television signals to analogue.

According to Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) only 2.2 million out of the 3.5 million Kenyan households with TV sets own the decoders.

The Regional Radio Communication Conference held in Geneva in 2006 set midnight June 17, 2015 as deadline for migration to digital TV.

Mr Wangusi said there has been poor distribution of the set-top boxes across the country, especially in remote rural areas.

He claimed Kenya has an over 3.2 million set-top boxes imported by 79 licensed vendors and viewers should be able to switch.

Critics, including Kenya’s Media Owners and the Consumer Federation of Kenya, (Cofek) dismissed said there is shortage of  the gadgets and the cost is still prohibitive.

On average free-to-air set-top boxes in Kenya cost between sh3,000 to  sh6500  meaning many Kenyans without financial muscle could not afford.  On the other hand, Pay TV providers are selling multi-channel decoders for between Sh1,999 and Sh2,500  besides  a monthly subscription of between Sh499 and Sh8,200.

According to Cofek, pay-TV subscriptions are not sustainable for the many low-income earners and the Government needs to step in to subsidize the cost for many households to acquire the gadgets.

Mr Mutoro said close to one million households that own the set-top boxes are no longer using them because they rushed to buy subsidised decoders from pay television service providers yet they cannot sustain paying the monthly subscriptions.

Kenya had intended to switch off in December 2012 but a series of court cases shattered that dream. 

The critics of government argued that the country was not ready for the migration and sought more time to allow uptake of decoders.

In June 2012, the government even lifted import duties on set-top boxes with the aim of bringing down prices but this yielded little impact on their uptake.

The Communications Authority of Kenya eventually began switching off analogue signals beginning with Nairobi in February. The final analogue switch-off was done on March 31.

With the global deadline on Wednesday, locked out Kenyans must now figure how to remain on air by purchasing either pay-tv or free-to-air decoders.

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