22 February 2009
News that analogue television transmission will be phased out in Egypt by 2015—as stipulated by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)—to be replaced with digital transmission was greeted with mixed feelings. The Egyptian National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) confirmed that Egyptian viewers as well as the Radio and Television Union (RTU) will incur financial burdens in the process.
The RTU will bear the cost of replacing its equipment to accommodate the new technology, as well as that of training the required human resources. As for the public, it will have to incur the cost of replacing outdated sets with new digital ones.
In a NTRA statement, the State pledged to inform the public of all the details of the transition process, to supply the market with affordable new television sets or with converters that could be mounted to the old sets; and to allow a transition period where both transmission systems would overlap. An official who asked for his name to be withheld, however, remarked that providing a large number of sets to comply with the ITU demands will pose a problem for the State especially within the six year deadline.
The statement pointed out that digital transmission would secure better, high resolution image quality and minimal noise interference. More importantly, it will free airwaves on UHF frequencies. The statement explained that the free frequency ranges will allow the launching of new privately-owned TV channels or providing other services, such as mobile phone, Internet or emergency services. This in itself will require the amendment of current legislation which bans the private sector from owning and operating ground channels; it is only allowed to own satellite channels.
On the other hand an RTU representative expressed his surprise at what he described as hastiness on behalf of the NTRA to free frequencies for ground channels, pointing out that the RTU is currently automatically altering the transmission of some channels to digital frequencies. According to the same RTU representative, conflicts have erupted between the ministries of communication and media about allocating television channels’ frequencies. He said the NTRA was eager to take over all ground channels frequencies to sell them to mobile operators.
Hisham Abdel-Rahman, head of the supervision and operation department of the NTRA said that the free airwaves would allow the merging between media, communication and visual transmission services through fibre-optic cables, with the public emerging as the main beneficiary.
The public, however, is as yet indifferent. The few who appeared to understand what the whole matter was about commented that they would not be bothered about some predicament they will not face until six years from now. As to the majority, who were unfamiliar with the technical aspect of the process, they thought this was a novel way for the government to stretch its hand into people’s pockets.