The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) has been left in the dark as the Ministry of Communications remains mute over some critical concerns confronting Ghanaian broadcasters in analogue mode migrating to digital terrestrial television (DTT).
The broadcasters are worried about the lack of a clear roadmap, governance and management structure, and timeline for migration, as well as allegations that StarTimes, a player in the industry, is involved in network expansion process of DTT against agreed principles.
Other issues raised border on the stalled process of forming Public Private Partnership between GIBA and Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), as well as no clear guidelines on pricing and cost modalities, among others.
Letters written by GIBA seeking clarification on many issues, all of which have been pending for some time now, have not received a reply from the Communication Ministry.
Efforts by The Finder to seek explanations from the ministry on GIBA’s concerns also proved futile as the ministry declined to comment despite promising earlier to respond.
Ghana missed the June 2015 deadline
The country missed the initial June 2015 deadline set under the Geneva 2006 agreement of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for countries to migrate onto the digital platform, citing delays in accessing funding for the project.
September 2017 deadline also missed
Technical specifications of the digital platform were developed in 2011 while the third phase of the migration process was completed in February 2017, paving the way for the migration to begin in September 2017.
GIBA in limbo over migration timeline
However, as of the time of filing this report, it was not known when the migration will begin.
No clear national DTT roadmap
According to GIBA, there is the need for government and the regulator to be clear and firm about the process and define a concrete, equitable and fair roadmap with clear timelines and agreed policy guidelines so that broadcasters can plan appropriately.
No clear governance and management structure
GIBA is worried that the National DTT Project has been running since 2015 with no clear governance and management structure.
“There is no clarity on the oversight and management of the National Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Infrastructure,” it added.
The broadcasting industry is a going business concern with huge investments, and thus the continuity of the business needs to be secured into the future.
This, GIBA believes, necessitates investors/stakeholders obtaining concise and precise information on the status of the project and what governs it.
GIBA/GBA PPP to operate DTT
According to GIBA, after a series of valuable consultations with all the stakeholders within the broadcasting value chain requiring fair play, equity and protection for all players in the broadcasting industry, it was recommended that a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between GIBA and GBC to be created under the PPP Division of the Ministry of Finance to operate the platform.
These recommendations were wholly approved by the government and culminated in GIBA’s full co-operation and investments in various forms to get the project to its current state.
PPP formation stalled
The process of forming a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) seems to have been stalled.
GIBA seeks clarity on PPP formation
Clarity is needed on when this PPP will be established, how it will be formed and if any further improvements are required, as well as what will be the new framework for ownership and operation of the National DTT Platform.
DTT Company hanging
According to GIBA, though the establishment of a DTT company has been clearly spelt out, it is still hanging, saying “we need to know when this comes into fruition since its operation is vital to the DTT platform”.
No clear guidelines on pricing and cost modalities
The broadcasters also requested the ministry to come out with clear guidelines on pricing and cost modalities which up till now is quite hazy.
The alleged meddling of StarTimes
“Information reaching GIBA indicates that StarTimes (a Chinese interest-broadcast media company) has been engaging in activities around the National DTT Infrastructure.
“It will be a deeply worrying situation if this is true due to possible security implications for such a highly sensitive broadcast infrastructure intended to carry members’ transmission across the country.
“GIBA would like to be fully informed if this claim of meddling as reported at the National DTT sites have been sanctioned by the Ministry of Communication and the basis for this.”
The broadcasters explained that a fundamental principle agreed upon during the tender process for the building of the National DTT Platform and included in the bid qualification criteria was that, for the sake of neutrality, no operator in the broadcasting industry should be involved with the bidding process to supply the infrastructure.
This was the reason why neither GIBA nor any of its members submitted a bid.
StarTimes submitted a bid (albeit unsuccessful) during the tender process because it was not an operator in Ghana at that time.
For the past two years, however, StarTimes has been involved as an active player (Max TV) in the broadcast industry in Ghana.
It is, therefore, curious why, if the allegations are true, they could be allowed to be involved in a network expansion process when all other operators have been excluded as a matter of principle.
The industry players noted that Ghana’s current economy and the market size do not call for an expansion of the infrastructure.
Economic consequences for broadcasters
Therefore, an over the proliferation of broadcasters/channels on the platform poses a threat to investments in the broadcast industry, stifling investments, which will have dire consequences for the broadcast and creative industry, which is already reeling under a weak content regulation and copyright abuse regime with a large number of TV stations.
GIBA said existing broadcasters who have invested millions of Ghanaian cedis and US dollars will be overnight facing unfair competition from unwarranted extra broadcasting units.
Prudence does not dictate the expenditure of much-needed public funds on what is not needed.
The DTT Network Project is to be self-financing and a potential revenue generating platform with the objective of maintaining the network and paying for the investment made by the government over time.
The DTT company is expected to have exclusive rights as the signal and transmission carrier services provider for all authorised Free-to-Air (FTA) broadcasters in Ghana.
The current infrastructure is expandable. Should there be the need for expansion through credible research and industry economics, and ratification by a constituted board managing the platform, there are several other business solutions that the company could explore.
The platform of this kind anywhere in the world (at the current level of completion with only few mop-ups) is capable of generating its own funds to meet all areas of expansions needed if it is run well, instead of sourcing for a loan and new contractors who, for all you know, are themselves interested in taking over the entire infrastructure to operate their own businesses while the taxpayer is made to pay for such loans.
KNet built DTT infrastructure
A Ghanaian entity, KNet Limited was awarded the contract in 2015 to build the DTT infrastructure for Ghana and it duly built the infrastructure, which is almost complete.
42 DTT sites completed
In early 2018, the Ministry of Communication stated that it had engaged and contracted power companies, including the Volta River Authority (VRA), Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and NEDCO, to provide dedicated power transformers to each of the 37 DTT sites out of a total of 42 completed sites which were ready to transmit digital signals, and the power provision was expected to be completed for test transmission and network optimisation by March 2018.
However, this did not happen as the planned inspection of sites by all relevant stakeholders did not take place.