Digital switchover: why is the Caribbean so behind?

The Caribbean lags behind in switching from analogue to digital TV. Some reasons for the delay are discussed.

For those who regularly read our ICT/tech news roundup published on Mondays, you may have noticed that articles pertaining to ‘digital switchover” pop up from time to time. We, here at ICT Pulse, had discussed digital switchover a few years ago, 2012 to be exact, when it had been receiving considerable attention. In our post, Switching over to digital TV: what you need to know, we mentioned that 17 June 2015 was viewed internationally as the “analogue switch-off date” – “when the radio frequencies that have been allocated to analogue TV will be made available to other applications”.

Without a doubt, we have blown past the 17 June 2015 deadline; however, the Caribbean does not appear to be any closer to completing the switchover process:

  • Indotel, the Dominican Republic telecoms regulator, announced last week that the country was extending the deadline to fully adopt digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to 2021, from the earlier commitment to switch off analogue TV by September 2015 (Source: Advanced Television)
  • Last year, Spectrum Management Authority, in Jamaica, stated it had pushed back the date to commence the digital switchover by three years, to 2018 (Source: Jamaica Observer);
  • Guyana has an approved switchover plan, which envisages the process beginning in 2016 and being completed by 2020 (Source: Kaieteur News)

Additionally, countries across the region may have been relying on the technical assistance that has been made available through soon to be concluded regional spectrum planning and management projects, which were funded by the Inter-American Development Bank. Though consultancies attached to those projects may have advised on the approach to be employed and how to mitigate challenges that could be experienced, it would still be incumbent on the countries to implement the switchover process.

Why has the digital switchover taken so long?

As reflected by the Caribbean experience (above), transitioning from analogue to digital TV can be a very protracted process. First, the analogue standards that are still being used today were developed in the 1940s and 1950s, and so there would be considerable depth of experience in those technologies. In being relatively new in comparison, there would be a steep learning curve for broadcasters, who would not only have to redesign and reconfigure their networks, but also develop the proficiency to troubleshot and adapt those digital technologies to their needs.

Second, from a regulatory perspective, the existing analogue radio frequency allocation plans and spectrum management policies would need to be revised to support a digital transmission framework. Depending on the country, the process to amend that system of rules, policies, licences, etc., can be quite involved, and so delay implementation by the broadcasters. Furthermore, although there might be a wealth of information freely available on spectrum management, planning and coordination in relation to digital TV, similar to the broadcasters, some Caribbean regulators may not readily possess the depth of expertise to be confident in preparing such crucial national frameworks (without expert support).

Third, a frequently overlooked point in early discussions on digital switchover is the cost to transition. In summary, it is expensive, as it requires broadcasters to replace existing their equipment and infrastructure. Further, that financial burden has become even more acute in the current business/economic climate in the region, where many broadcasters are generating lower than normal revenues, due in part to a consistent decline in advertising, and their audiences/customer base.

Finally, whilst much of the focus of the switchover process is on establishing the proper framework and getting all broadcasters implementing the new regime, there are also far-reaching implications to customers, who will need to update their TVs and other receivers. Outside of the Dominican Republic so far, which indicated that customers who purchased DTT decoders would be compensated, it is likely that customers in other Caribbean countries will have to bear those costs. Consequently, the switchover period must also factor in those stakeholders, with sufficient latitude to hopefully achieve a smooth transition.

Is it really necessary?

In summary, although there are a number of benefits in switching to digital TV – such as better picture quality, more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum, and more channels – it is a costly and involved process. However, while developing countries, and especially broadcasters, might bristle at being forced to switch, the truth is that the world is transitioning to digital TV. In time, analogue TV equipment and devices will no longer be available, and so it makes sense for countries to try to stay ahead of that eventuality.

 

Image credit:  Johnnie Johnson Housing

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1 Comment

  • Michele, by 2020 broadband is going to be so cheap and universal, do we really need to invest the time and resources into the old fashioned broadcasting system (be it digital or analog) that is rapidly becoming irrelevant?

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