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The three countries have completed their digital migration process and were sharing their experiences during the 21st East African Communications Organisation conference and exhibition. The conference was held at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala by state minister for ICT Nyombi Thembo.

Officials from the three countries also said they carried out public awareness campaigns before the digital migration process took place. They also said they licensed at least two companies to distribute digital signals at agreed minimal fees for TV broadcasters.

The International Telecommunications Union set June 17 2105 as the deadline for migration from analogue TV broadcast to digital TV broadcasts with some countries beating the deadline while others have not.

?For the sake of digital migration we used the cheapest set-top boxes. In future we will allow other more expensive boxes. Here are boxes that can provide internet but we are not going for that one. In future the market will determine the prices,? Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, head of communications and media regulation department, Rwanda.

A set-top box is a device that enables a television set to receive and decode digital television broadcasts which provide clearer pictures. Mutabazi said there were still disagreements over fees to be paid by TV broadcasters to the two companies licensed as digital signal carriers.

?Rwanda has done 100% digital migration. Convincing people to buy set-top boxes was at first not easy but when we explained the advantages of digital technology they were convinced,? Mutabazi said.

Thembo said ICTs were recognized as one of the most transformative inventions today. ?These technologies shrink distance and inject efficiency in governance, economic production and in the provision of social services,? Thembo said.

Thembo said government has asked suppliers of set-top boxes to expand their outlets and import cheap set top boxes with minimum specifications to enable all Ugandans afford them.

?Prof. John Nkoma, director general Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority said they set a ceiling of US$ 3,800 (sh11.4m) per month for fees by broadcasters to companies licensed to distribute digital signals.

Nkoma said Tanzania has two signal carriers supplying over 27 TV stations in Tanzania. He said for broadcasts in remote areas the fees, were expected to be lower than those charged in urban areas.

Nkoma said before the migration took place, the few dominant broadcasters at first had fear of the change in business model, because they lost control of distributing signals. ?In digital broadcast you produce programs and pay for someone to distribute, you don?t need distribution infrastructure anymore,? Nkoma said.

Nkoma said set- top boxes cost between US$10 to US$30 (sh30,000 to sh90,000). He said there was also importation of digital TVs with inbuilt set-top boxes with a price of about US$500 (sh1.5m) but they were still considered expensive for many people.

Rachel Alwala, assistant director communications and external affairs Communications Authority of Kenya said Kenya prescribed the lowest specification of set-top boxes of about US$25 (sh75,000) to enable the digital migration process.

Alwala said Kenya had two signal carriers Signet and Pan African Network that were carrying signals for all broadcasters. She said the fees charged were about US$1,550 (sh4.6m) per month and was not expensive for the broadcasters.

Alwala said Kenya had problems with its digital migration which saw some private TV broadcasters going to court in February after their analogue signals were switched off but the court ruled that the migration process should continue

Godfrey Mutabaazi, executive director Uganda Communications Commission said the boxes were new technologies that offer various services.

Mutabazi said they now allowed for low end boxes which have basic functions to be imported.

Mutabazi told delegates attending the meeting that Uganda?s government was working closely with industry players and other stakeholders to ensure that ICT policies, laws and regulatory frameworks are aligned with market trends.

He explained that the law provides that for the first five years there would be one signal carrier in Uganda operating under Uganda Broadcasting Corporation but the law can be reviewed.

?More needs to be done towards addressing issues of low awareness and empowerment of consumers of ICTs and the inadequate capacity of regulators to monitor and enforce compliance with quality service standards by operators especially with regards to data services,? Mutabazi added.

?A worrying emerging trend is cybercrime which erodes public trust in the use of ICTs and negatively impacts on the development of e-commerce and other digital services,? he said.

By John Odyek, The New Vision

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