Digital Signal Distribution; who missed the point?

Last week, there was a huge debate over digital signal distribution contract given to a Chinese firm- Pan African Network Group. The main dispute came to the fore after Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services lost a procurement appeal.

I remember the tender and the whole digital broadcasting debate, but when I saw S.K macharia and Linus Gitahi being interviewed, I knew the big guns were blazing. Terms like media freedom were being fronted around and how it could be interfered with during next year’s elections.

One conspicuous issue was that no one from government was interviewed to counter the accusations, so to the public, it seemed like the government had ignored local consortium in favor of a Chinese company, that did not have existing infrastructure. There is no contest that those are the two biggest media in Kenya and you have to agree, they had a point, at that time.

Because there was no much info as to why the Communications Commission of Kenya awarded the contract, it always pays to wait and hear the other side; and the rejoinder from CCK came, and their first point was to raise an issue of how the media ignored the principle of fair doctrine- I think there is no contest about that, it was thrown out of the door 🙂

From the rejoinder, it emerged that the investments made by the media houses do not count as much because they will have to build new infrastructure as per the CCK guidelines submitted to the International Telecommunications Union. The only usable investment is land, and even then, that land will have to be in the areas designated for digital broadcasting.

Hmmmm….. so now, the extensive infrastructure card is out. And I didn’t hear them say that they has shs. 4 billion ready for investment, maybe they will get a loan, just like the Chinese probably will. Besides, being Kenyan doesn’t mean you are the best, what happened to competition.

From the arguments, not many people could tell that the license was for commercial digital distribution, KBC has the government funded one, so if you don’t like the commercial one, I think KBC gives another alternative.

As it has now been explained, one of the reasons for the tender is to separate signal and content distribution. I think this is the point where the unified licensing regime will start making sense. All license holders will have to be licensed afresh under content or signal distribution. Right now, TV stations do both. I wonder if it would be better if the policy says if you are in signal distribution, then you have to buy content from content providers and can not do both, like it happens in South Africa.

This is also going to be a sticky point because media houses will have to pay more to content providers if the 30 percent local content quota is enforced, which will mean better business to content providers.

There is no doubt that the whole digital migration is going to have far more greater implications that we probably think. Investors will have to fine new things to do with their extensive infrastructure now that the content will be distributed through someone else’s infrastructure. Maybe companies will sell off the masts, towers, etc or they will start selling internet capacity if its possible but innovation is needed fast…forget media freedom, think what you will do with the infrastructure once we switch from analogue to digital.

The two sides argued their cases but I think the real debate will come out once CCK advertises for license application and gives guidelines. We will probably see court cases that will explain all about those broadcasting stakeholder forums that I see advertised in the papers and am not sure if the bigwigs in the media houses attend.

Remember the debate about the ICT Act? The issue was also about media freedom and it turned out the clause in question was a decade old 🙂 and the media did not have a clue, they thought it was in the amendment Act.

So, the debate may have just began, let us now discuss what happens with the analogue spectrum that media owners will give back. Will it be fairly redistributed, auctioned or will be allocated like the current spectrum was? Will we see some set aside for rural Wi-fi projects?

Maybe am jumping the gun and will soon start digressing 🙂