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Over 1.5 million homes locked out two years after digital TV switch, says report

By Macharia Kamau | February 7th 2017
The sun rise above the TV antennas and dishes atop the Lonhro House in Nairobi in the early morning of 11th March 2015. Pictureby Jacob Otieno

Two years after the switch off of analogue television broadcast signals, more than 1.5 million homes still do not have access to the digital TV signals due to high cost of acquiring set top boxes (STBs).

A new report on digital migration in Kenya said three million households have acquired the gadgets that convert digital signals for viewing on ordinary TV sets. This is out of an estimated 4.5 million households that own a television set in the country.

The report by the GSM Association – a global lobby for mobile operators – notes that while Kenya has had success in the switch over from analogue to digital broadcast platforms, the cost of set top boxes has locked out a big number of families from accessing TV services.

"By June 2016, the number of end-user decoders had increased to approximately three million, with an added 3.12 million STBs having been imported to Kenya," said GSMA in the report published last week.

Locally, the decoders are priced at about Sh3,000, having declined by a substantial margin from the retail rates of between Sh10,000 and Sh15,000 in 2010 when the migration agenda was still at its fledgling stages.

The decline in prices followed a move by the Government to forego revenue when it reduced taxes and regulatory fees in a bid to make digital TV receivers affordable.

"Although the STBs can be considered low-cost devices (compared to, say, mobile phones), low wages can still place them out of reach for many consumers," said GSMA.

"The high cost of STBs was an issue not only in the East African region, but also in many Western digital TV migrations, including in the United States. The problem is more pronounced in the East African region because funding constraints did not allow for subsidies."

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) is currently considering using money from Universal Service Fund to lower costs of set top boxes (STBs). USF is a kitty where all CA licensees contribute a fraction of their revenues and used by the regulator to bridge the digital divide.

CA also plans to use money from the fund to increase coverage of the digital signal in remote areas, which currently covers 60 per cent of the Kenyan population.

To date, Kenya is one of the seven -of the 54 African countries that signed the ITU agreement in Geneva to migrate to digital broadcast platforms by mid-2015- countries that have completed the analogue switch off.

The migration process freed up resources that are currently being reassigned and are expected to help deepen mobile broadband in the country. The telcos have been issued with licences are currently at different stages of deploying 4 G networks services using resources that were freed up by the migration.

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