Slow road to digital switch-over - Cable groups mum; Flow ahead but network coverage behind
Published: Friday | August 14, 2009
Michelle English, chief executive officer of Flow Jamaica. Flow is fully digital. - File
Jamaica has begun the process to go fully digital in radio and television broadcasting, but with no national digital switchover (DSO) policy in place and the necessary research yet to be done, broadcasting regulator, the Broadcasting Commission says no timeline has been set to switch off analogue signals still being used.
A steering committee set up by the commission to plan the way forward has met only twice, but has already decided to focus on the switchover to digital television, with radio to be treated as a separate project after a feasibility study has been completed.
"It is expected that switchover will be carried out in a phased manner," said the Broadcasting Commission's information and public relations officer, Nicole Morrison.
"This will give the relevant parties adequate time to make the necessary changes and adjustments for transition."
Around the world, the use of set top and rooftop antennae to receive broadcasting signals has been coming to an end as DSO picks up pace.
European countries such as Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and much of Austria have already built out their digital
The United States went digital in June, pulling the plug on its old analogue system.
But Jamaica's move in this direction is still in the early stages, with the study to be undertaken being the first of four stages of implementation identified in March
A report on the Broadcasting Commission's website lists the other stages as technology selection, digital switch-on and analogue switch-off.
Players in the cable industry have so far been tight-lipped on the moves being made to go digital. Winsome Witter, president of the Jamaica Association of Community Cable Operators (JACCO), which represents the 38 cable operators islandwide, would not comment.
The group's representative on the national steering committee, Wesley Anderson, who heads the May Pen, Clarendon-based General Satellite Network, was equally mum when contacted by the Financial Gleaner.
However, Dennis Darby, general manager of Telstar Cable, which operates in Kingston said company officials were now informing themselves of the DSO process.
"We are researching the matter, looking at the whole scenario and seeing how it will impact on what we do, as well as how we will utilise the new technology," he said.
Columbus Communications, the parent company of Jamaica's largest cable operator, Flow, has been offering a digital service since it entered the local market three years ago.
The company has invested, it says, some US$200 million (approximately $15 billion to $17 billion) in this market, including six or seven cable company acquisitions.
Flow entered the market willing to buy up operators willing to sell, but is now backing off of that programme.
"There are still quite a number of companies that are approaching us to buy their systems but we are just concentrating on our greenfield (operations) - building out in new areas, putting our network in place, rather than acquiring and overbuilding," Chief Executive Officer Michelle English told the Financial Gleaner.
The company, under its licence, is committed to building out a nationwide network, but now says it would not have achieved blanket coverage at its initial deadline.
Said English: "2011 has been pushed out a little, but it is tough to say right now when we will be completed. We are a bit behind, but trying to look at ways that we can make that up, so I would not want to give a hard and fast time."
Flow's cable company acquisitions that operated analogue systems have been converted.
"What we have done is acquire some analogue companies as in Portmore and Mandeville and have gone in and replaced the analogue structure with digital," Sharon Roper, head of marketing at Flow told the Financial Gleaner.
"What we will do as short term - that people don't miss out on their cable - is keep the analogue service in place while we upgrade the existing infrastructure, after which they are required to switch over to the digital service," the Flow representative said.
Flow, with is core retail business of cable-television, high-speed Internet and landline telephone service predicated on a digital backbone, has resisted calls from some of its cable TV clients to retain the analogue systems they buy in order to keep down the cost of the service.
But English is against that, saying it would compromise the core standards that come with Flow's digital infrastructure.
"That would mean an inferior network offering outdated products," English said.
"I don't see us going down that road. The whole world is trying to move to digital, and certainly would be a real step back to offer anything less than the type of service that we are offering today."