Digital television broadcasting is switched on in Abuja. It signals the start of full roll-out of digital broadcasting in the capital city. The consequence? Nigeria could complete its digital switch over (DSO) of television next June, according to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and one of the licensed Signal Distributor, Pinnacle Communications Limited.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had given Nigeria up to June, 2017 to switch from analogue broadcasting to digital to free up some spectrum for use in telecommunications.
There had been apprehension of Nigeria not meeting the deadline and incurring the wrath of the global radio-communication regulatory authority.
But the director-general of NBC, Malam Is’haq Modibbo Kawu had said at the launch of digital switchover in Abuja Thursday, “By June next year, we would have done 95% of Nigeria, which gives us opportunity so we can conclude the switch over. It is a huge logistic and financial challenge for all of us.”
The commission estimates up to 24 million TV viewing homes will be covered, and manufacturing of about 30m set-top boxes to reach all will be a challenge.
The set-top boxes will be upgraded eventually to provide internet access but could also be a conduit for easy flow of government policy information and polling.
It launched in Abuja with 30 channels, compared with 15 in Jos, and the point-to-point launch will continue across the country, according to Kawu.
“Eventually, at the end of the process, 70% of all content will be Nigerian. This is a very young country and young people need opportunity for creation of jobs,” said Kawu.
“There is a job creation element central to this process; that’s why it is a very critical part of government in our country.”
Kawu said it had been projected that over one million direct and indirect jobs would be created after Nigeria completed its DSO in June, 2017.
President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria now stands at the threshold of massive jobs creation with the DSO.
Speaking at the launch of the Digital Switch Over in Abuja, President Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, said the digitalization of the country’s broadcasting industry couldn’t have come at a better time when Nigeria’s economy needs a lifeline.
“Even if only for the huge local and international opportunities for Broadcast, media, ICT, entertainment and education, we are right to say that we stand at the threshold of exciting times for job creation, entertainment and in general local and international commerce,” President Buhari said.
He said he had been reliably informed that switching on digital broadcasting would provide a lot of opportunities to millions of Nigerian youths in the area of content development.
The president, who noted that the set-top boxes available for the switch-over in Abuja were produced in Nigeria, stressed that strong partnership with the private sector is the defining strategy of the present administration’s economic plan.
He restated Nigeria’s resolve to meet the June 2017, DSO deadline set by the ITU.
He said the DSO will liberalize access to and increase versatility of media information, interactive programming, two-way programming, as well as open up mobile reception of video, internet and multimedia media data.
He reiterated his promise to make entertainers, artistes, small business owners and artisans essential pillars in the country’s economic diversification effort.
The chairman Digiteam Nigeria, Engr Edward Amana said about 26,000 jobs had already been created so far through the four set-top-box manufacturing companies in Lagos, Ogun, Abuja and Cross-River States.
About 200,000 set top boxes have been distributed at the various distribution centres across Abuja, and additional 450,000 are being distributed, according to NBC.
The box would be sold at subsidized rate of N1,500 while a TV viewer would pay N1,000 annually for TV licence fee.
Apart from job creation, another benefit of DSO is that it will provide funds for SMEs.
The plan is to pool the digital access fee, currently N1,000 a year, to be given to local governments for development or be put into a National Content Development Fund outside the control of the NBC, Kawu said.
“The money will be available to young people to produce content around Nigeria. That’s the only way you can give Nigerians hope that the country is actually their country,” explained Kawu.
“When it goes the full circle, no TV station will be transmitting anymore,” said Kalada Wilson, director of public and government affairs at Cable Channels Nigeria, which operates Free TV, the licensed content aggregator. “It is imperative every Nigerian gets the set-top box.”
Local free-to-air channels are migrating to be viewed only through the set-top box, which will eventually include channels currently available on cable TV.
“When the switch-off happens, if you don’t have a set-top box, you won’t be able to watch TV,” said Wilson.
But Kawu said field strength test had indicated that the signals were covering most parts of the FCT and that viewers with activated boxes could receive signal.
“Let me say however that those with low signals in their areas will need external antennas that will give them clear signals. The 30 channel operators on the Abuja Rollout have been trained and sensitized on the management of the channels,” he said.
Viewers, he said, could call NBC call centre operators and receive services or have their boxes activated.
The Chairman of Pinnacle Communications, the Signal Distributor for Abuja DSO, Sir Lucky Omoluwa, who also assured Nigerians that Nigeria would meet the June deadline, said his company had put everything necessary in place to see through the Abuja DSO.
In his speech at the launch, Omoluwa commended the Federal Government for restoring the private sector confidence in the DSO scheme
He said without the resolve of President Buhari and NBC, the DSO wouldn’t have been successful.