Digital SwitchOver not backed by law, lacks coherent strategy, says lawyer

A United Kingdom-based Nigerian lawyer, Timothy E. Agbo, has described the country’s digital switchover (DSO) programme as having neither a legal backing nor a coherent strategy.

The programme, which began in 2012, has largely been marked by unsteady implementation, resulting in two missed deadlines and a halt in 2018, was on 30 April restarted in Lagos State, and is expected to be completed in three years.

Agbo, who was a broadcaster before going to study law, is of the view that the completion rests on hope rather than expectation, as the programme is not backed by any law and its implementation is incoherent. He explained that countries that have completed the DSO programme had digital transition legislations in place. These, he said, guided the programme in terms of financing and milestones. He noted that such legislation focused on industry-specific challenges and assisted in the delivery of end-to-end digital capabilities—from strategy development to technology implementation, to managed services.

“In the UK, they had the Transition Act, the legal framework enacted by parliament on which the programme was based. We have no such here. What we have is murky and means, for example, that content owner who wishes to establish new television platforms are unaware of the licensing framework,” said Agbo.

He argued that the country lost an opportunity to draft a new body of regulations and digital licensing during last year’s review of the National Broadcasting Code.

“We wasted the opportunity because the review was rushed and the amendments failed to address the digital switchover programme. This has created uncertainty, which will affect investor confidence in the envisaged digital broadcasting ecosystem.

“It is unclear what the new digital platform or channel application and licensing processes are. What the Federal Government is harping on is the 2014 DSO Whitepaper, which is no law. It is surprising that such as an ecosystem-altering programme has no law speaking to governance and operating structure, financial relationships, and other elements, but is left to the whims of individuals, as we can see from the recent directive to broadcasters to migrate to the platforms of private companies, one of which was illegally paid N2.5billion by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC),” argued Agbo.

He contended that without a law, funds for the DSO may end up in private pockets.

The lawyer similarly noted that NBC has been unable to adequately articulate the objectives of the DSO, leaving the industry and the general public without clarity of where the DSO is headed and when it will arrive at its destination.

“The general public has little, if any, understanding of what the DSO is. Nobody is talking about the DSO. We can argue that there are more pressing issues-security, a faltering economy, and inter-ethnic and religious tensions.

“But even before now, DSO provoked no public interest. It makes you wonder why the government has chosen to sink its teeth into it at this time.

“The weak economy will make it difficult for broadcasters to meet DSO requirements such as investment in new services. Signal distributors are already finding it tough to invest in transmission infrastructure, while manufacturers are having the same experience with an investment that will lead to the delivery of Set-Top-Boxes in the required numbers,” noted Agbo.

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