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2015 may seem like a decent amount of time to complete the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting. But in Ghana not much movement is actually taking place according to ICT expert and researcher Tanko Mohammed in a report for APC as part our West African digital migration series.

“A body called the National Digital Broadcasting Migration Technical Committee has been set up to oversee the transition. But the members of the committee itself have had challenges moving forward and so everything seemto be at a stand-still,” Mohammed told APCNews.

The committee —which was set up to make strategy and standards recommendations such as subscription models and establishing what spectrum is available— has yet to select a standard for set top boxes. They are undecided over whether to go with a cheaper and simpler technology (DVB-T) or go straight to using the same technology that is being used in Europe (DVB-T2) and save Ghanaians the hassle of potentially having to switch again later down the road.

Most Ghanaians will not be able to afford even the cheaper technology

New digital televisions that conform to the simpler DVB-T signals cost approximately 1000 USD. DVB-T set top boxes (STPs) priced at 63 USD are much cheaper however “many people in rural Ghana haven’t even switched from black and white to colour television yet” says Mohammed in his report.

“Of the roughly 6.6 million set top boxes needed for the country, a large percentage of the population will be unable to afford it,” Mohammed writes in his report. “On the basis of 6.1 persons per household, this means that there will be 1,070,604 households that cannot afford a 50 USD set top box. Even if Ghana completes the transition in a timely fashion, many will still be left without television.”

Mohammed suggests that the government subsidises STPs,. The financial burden would fall on the government and Ministry of Communications with subsidies costing upwards of 54,000,000 USD, less than one dollar per viewer who would otherwise be lost.

Ghanaians left in the dark

While the committee deliberates set top boxes, not only is the transition stalled but Ghanaians are being kept deliberately in the dark.

“The committee doesn’t want to pre-emptively let people know about the transition, especially since they are still unsure about which STP to use, but agreement is needed because they cannot move forward with the migration before they have decided on this,” warns Mohammed.

“There is no point in letting people know about it if they still do not know which STP to use. If people go out and purchase DVB-T and the committee decides to go with DVB-T2, they will have wasted their money,” he says.

Expected investment in new infrastructure

On the bright side, the transition will likely prompt the country to invest in new infrastructure. The current geographical extent of TV signals covers about 80% of the land and 70% of inhabitants. It is expected that the transition, whose costs are estimated to fall between US$25 – 100 million – will extend the coverage to the areas around the country that are currently not receiving signals in 2012 and a universal access policy equivalent for TV broadcasting similar to that of internet access is also being considered.

What about e-waste?

Other important concerns related to the transition are generating less discussion. How will Ghana deal with the e-waste that will be generated as a result of the transition? Mohammed says that the committee is unsure how it will avoid the dumping of obsolete analogue television equipment – and how to deal with imported e-waste from other countries who complete the switch-over ahead of Ghana and send their rubbish to Ghana’s landfills as is now being done with other equipment.

Research carried out by APC on e-waste elsewhere has found that unless e-waste management is specifically mentioned in policy it generally becomes no one’s responsibility, leading to dumping, reliance on informal recyclers and potentially major land contamination and health problems for the future.

So will Ghana meet the 2015 deadline?

Mohammed feels the 2015 deadline is realistic, but that the transition could be chaotic, made at the last minute. “The sense of urgency is lacking,” he says. “The transition requires a lot of work and it cannot get done in a day or a year.” So the government is likely to make the transition to digital TV, but whether the people of Ghana will be able to do so is another question.

Mohammed feels it could be years before the catch up and purchase a box, leaving most of the 6.6 million unable to purchase a top box without television for possibly years.

“But first things first – the committee needs to decide on what set top box to use so that they can move forward with the process, and let the people know with as much advance notice as possible,” he concludes.

This article was written as part of APC’s work on Digital Migration in West Africa and was based on the report by Tanko Mohammed, Digital broadcast migration in West Africa Ghana Research Report. Read other reports and articles on the digital migration in Africa .

Photo by Ben Sutherland. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0