Ahead of the Federal Government’s restart of the digital switch over (DSO) programme, stakeholders in the Nigerian broadcasting industry have warned that Nigerians may have to pay as high as N50,000 for a Set-Top-Box (STB), the device needed to convert analogue television signal to digital.
The Federal Government, in February, announced its readiness to resuscitate the DSO programme from its three-year hiatus, with the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stating that the programme will be completed by 2022.
Industry stakeholders are, however, worried that a major hindrance to the planned completion may be the cost Nigerians will pay for the acquisition of STBs required to convert analogue to digital television signal.
Charles Tiebowei, a Port Harcourt-based broadcast engineer, noted that the price for STBs will be considerably steep because the Federal Government has abolished plans to provide subsidy on STBs. “Last year, if you recall, the Information Minister announced that the government had taken a decision to abolish subsidies on set-top boxes. He said this at a meeting between members of the DigiTeam and stakeholders in the DSO architecture, saying the DSO programme will be private-sector driven,” he said.
The implication, according to Tiebowei, is that the price will be between N40,000 and N50,000.
He noted that before the devaluation of the naira, the recommended price of STB ranged between N20,000 and N30,000.
“The STBs will be imported. The 800,000 STBs used during the pilot rollout in the six states it held were all imported as there is no local manufacturing capacity. What this means is that Nigerians, who are already under financial pressure, will have to pay higher prices to acquire STBs with the naira not in a healthy shape,” he said.
Ladi Adepitan, another broadcast engineer, also agreed that a lack of local manufacturing capacity is sure to make STB prices high.
He recalled that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), which is in charge of the DSO, once threatened to sanction licensed STB manufacturers for failure to set up operations.
“Before the DSO programme went on an unceremonious break in 2018, Malam Ishaq Modibbo-Kawu, former NBC Director-General, threatened to punish STB manufacturers for failure to set up their plants six years after licenses were issued to them. At the time, only six of 13 licensees had set up and they were essentially assembly, not manufacturing operations. Nothing has happened between then and now because the companies lacked the financial capacity to get going.
“With the Federal Government’s sudden decision to resume rollout at high velocity and the Information Minister’s recent announcement that the country needs 24 million STBs, Nigeria hasn’t any other option than to import. We all know the prices of imported goods with the falling naira. There is no doubt that more pressure will be heaped on already traumatised Nigerians,” he said.
A broadcast engineer, who craved anonymity because he works with a public broadcaster, was of the view that the price for STB may actually exceed N50,000 because of the type adopted for the country’s DSO programme. He stated that what the country needs is a standard-type STB, which receives Free-To-Air signal and is considerably cheaper, not the one that has in-built conditional access like those used in pay television transmission, which are expensive.
“I think an error was made in the adoption of the STB with conditional access. That is way more expensive and will burn a huge hole in the pockets of Nigerians. The government announced last August that its finances have been affected by COVID-19 and gave that as a reason for its discontinuation of its plan to subsidise STBs. This means we have to import,” he explained.
He also stated that licensed STB manufacturers have not produced a single STB, adding that for them to produce at a level that meets the government’s expectation of 24million STBs will take them about six and a half years of working at full capacity.
“That will take some doing. They have not been doing anything because the programme has encountered all manner of impediments, including corruption,” he reasoned.