The transition to digital television: focus on the priority objective!

On 16 June 2006 in Geneva, more than one hundred countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East decided, within the framework of the Regional Conference on Radiocommunications of the International Telecommunication Union, to give themselves ten years to pass To digital terrestrial broadcasting. Thus, the date of 17 June 2015 at 1H GMT was chosen for the end of analog television and its replacement by digital terrestrial television (DTT). It is a decisive step in the world of television in the sense that it radically changes the situation: it is a question of passing from a situation of relative scarcity of programs and channels, Offering to the greatest number a wide variety and a great wealth of television content. To put it simply, each current television channel should allow, at the very least, the broadcasting of six digital programs, thus recovering to release frequencies for another use.

Additionally, digital terrestrial television provides better image quality and reduces operating costs for broadcast and transmission compared to analog, but requires high installation costs. For technical reasons of switching from analogue to digital, the introduction of digital terrestrial television requires the installation of a new infrastructure shared by all the television channels – the multiplexing device – and even opens the possibility of Revisit the modalities of broadcasting audiovisual signals: single or multiple broadcaster? There is no doubt that the transition to DTT induces profound changes in the television universe, opens up interesting prospects and offers countless opportunities that a country that aims for emergence would be very wrong not to exploit. However, this profound change in the audiovisual sector is raising many questions and raising important issues.

From a strategic point of view, it is an opportunity to question the state’s television policy and the role of television in society. Since television can have both positive and negative effects in the lives of citizens – men, women, children and adults – it is essential to seize the opportunity of this major development to ask some essential questions: Information and entertainment, do we want to make television a means of interactive communication between the administration and the citizens, a real deepening of democracy? Do we want to make it a powerful vector of education and training? Do we want to make it a tool for preserving our local and regional cultures by using it to promote local content and cultural diversity? These preliminary issues seem to have been taken over by the National Committee for the Transition from Analog to Digital Audiovisual (CNN); This ad hoc structure created by the Prime Minister’s decree in August 2010 and attached to the Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and the Economy produced a 129-page document entitled “National strategy for the transition from analogue to digital audiovisual”. This document, which is not too heavy, raises the main stakes of the transition and has the merit of proposing a global objective, three strategic axes, four pillars and a multitude of actions that should enable Senegal to make the best of the next advent Of TNT. It seems to cover all the issues of digital transition, such as content quality and diversity, sharing of technical infrastructure, meeting consumer needs at affordable costs, economic viability of operators in the sector The adjustment of the legal and institutional framework to the new situation, the allocation of frequencies freed – digital dividend – to another use, in particular to very high-speed Internet service, public information, Equipment and the whole process of switching to digital, the training of players in the sector, etc.

In short, as formulated in February by the CNN, the overall objective of the national digital switchover strategy covers a fairly broad spectrum and is therefore likely to answer questions about the role of television in society: Is to “ensure to the Senegalese populations, before June 2015, universal access to audiovisual communication services, through a national coverage in digital broadcasting services of socially useful, culturally diverse audiovisual content”. It is hoped that all stakeholders – political, economic, social, cultural, etc. – have been sufficiently involved in the drafting of this strategy paper and have appropriated it. So what about the operational implementation of this strategy now? The creation of the National Steering Committee for the Transition from Analog to Digital (CONTAN) and its formal and solemn installation by the President of the Republic on 30 December 2013 marks a decisive step in the march towards DTT. The CONTAN is in fact responsible for implementing actions necessary for the transition of our country from analogue television to digital television before June 17, 2015. Placed under the authority of the President of the Republic, CONTAN has broad prerogatives to carry out its mission; They cover: the pre-selection of technical and financial partners responsible for constructing, on behalf of the State, the multiplexing and transport infrastructures for audiovisual signals; The conditions relating to the creation, exploitation and dissemination of audiovisual content; Legal and regulatory aspects relating to the specifications of audiovisual program publishers and new concession agreements for broadcasters of audiovisual programs; The terms and conditions for the assignment of new broadcasting frequencies; The management of the digital switchover project.

But the first acts posed by the CONTAN have set the controversy and seemed to have relegated to the background the priority and essential objective of replacing analogue television on digital television before June 17, 2015. Who too embraces embraces! This maxim applies perfectly to the approach undertaken by CONTAN by launching on 20 January 2014 an invitation to tender for three lots: a multiplex network for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT); A national fiber optic network (3000 km); A 4G / LTE network. Of these three lots, only the one corresponding to the multiplex network seems to be indispensable to the digital transition project. For the national fiber network, alternative and transitory solutions can be found, as Senegal is one of the African countries where fiber optic transmission is the oldest (early 1990s) and the most present (more than 6000 Km already installed). In addition, it seems risky, even illusory, to want to build 3000 km of fiber optics in a timeframe compatible with the expiration of the digital transition project. Regarding the 4G / LTE, the process is even more incomprehensible: to my knowledge, in no country in the world, such a mix of genres has been achieved successfully. In all the cases I have studied, in the countries of Europe (Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, France, etc.) and Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, South Africa, etc.) .), The two processes – switching to digital television and setting up 4G / LTE infrastructures – were the subject of two independent processes. Pragmatism and the basic principles of good project management to avoid wanting to “run several hares at a time”, when it comes to a project with fixed deadline and short deadlines.

It does not escape anyone that Senegal is far from being ahead of its project of transition to DTT; Then, if it wants to succeed its mission, the CONTAN has every interest to focus on its objective Priority. Otherwise, it is clear that Senegal will not be at the rendezvous of June 17, 2015, will then be obliged to request additional delays and will fail to its international commitments. Concerning 4G / LTE, CONTAN’s approach is rejected by most of the significant players because it derogates from the constructive spirit of dialogue and consultation that has always prevailed in the ICT sector between the state and The different stakeholders at the time of the major structuring decisions. In addition, it makes illegible the state’s strategy for high and very high Internet rates, the cornerstone of the digital economy and contradict the initiatives already taken by the ARTP. In addition, the CONTAN proposals seem to want to bring Senegal back to a situation of state monopoly on infrastructures – 4G / LTE – which no relevant argument seems to justify. How can one imagine that the state could be in debt to the tune of nearly 50 billion CFA francs to finance investments that private operators would be willing to make, while the challenges remain enormous in education, health, Agriculture, transport, electricity? Moreover, the state has a formidable weapon called specifications to indicate the direction and set quantitative and qualitative objectives to private operators.

In short, the implementation of the transition to DTT seems to be badly missed by lack of focus on the essential; But it is still time to redress the bar to allow Senegal to benefit from the transition to DTT, with the emergence of new audiovisual services and a television really serving the development of the country and the flourishing of Populations. “The genius is knowing how to seize opportunities.” The transition from analogue to digital television is a formidable one that Senegal has no right to miss and the authorities have a duty to carry out this process pragmatically with a priority objective in mind and Favoring constructive dialogue with all stakeholders. Samba Sene, April 2014 Actor in the ICT sector Sambasene@wissafrcia.com @BaccSene