After 3-year lull on digital switch over… FG okays N9.4bn for project execution

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Three years after a lull of sort, the federal government has reactivated the Digital Switch Over (DSO) rollout stopped in 2018 having kick started the project in five states namely;  Plateau, Kwara, Kaduna, Enugu and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja.

Apart from inaugurating a 13-man task force to get the work done in the remaining 31 states, the federal government also approved and released the sum of N9.4billion to settle stakeholders owned various sums.

Above all, the federal government said the project would generate over one million jobs over the next three years.

Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed announced this Tuesday while inaugurating the ministerial task force in Abuja.

The team, headed by the minister himself, has as its members Director General National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Professor Armstrong Idachaba; Engineer Edward Amana (Digiteam); Dr. Tunde Adegbola (Digiteam); Hajiya Sa’a Ibrahim of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria (BON); Engineer Sadeeq Musa (ITS); and  Mr. Godfrey Ohuabunwa (Set-Top-Box Manufacturers) who stood in for BON chair.

The rest are  Dr. Lekan Fadolapo (APCON);  Ms. Aisha Shehu Omar (Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning);  Mr J. O. Attah (Nigeria Customs Service); represented by Mr Dalhatu; Mr. Nnanna Ibom (Federal Ministry of Information and Culture);  Engineer Olusegun Yakubu (Pinnacle Communications); and Mr. Joe Mutah of FMIC who serves as secretary.

Inaugurating the task force team, the minister, Alhaji Mohammed said the Federal Executive Council has recently approved the outstanding payments to key stakeholders in the DSO, thus removing what has constituted a roadblock to the entire process in the past three years.”

Asked of the amount so approved, he said “N9.4billion has been approved and released for several service providers. As you may be aware, the DSO is a complex project. We owe the stakeholders over the years huge sums of money.

“Don’t forget we already missed two deadlines. The reason why we need the rollout is that if we lag behind, we will start experiencing obstruction in our telecast. We are charting a new path for the DSO. Reliance on government for subsidy will no longer be the order of the day.”

On whether there won’t a legal inhibition to the project in view of the pending court case, the minister said: “I am not aware of any legal issue about DSO. I am not aware of any court injunction stopping DSO. The only challenge we have is our inability to pay stakeholders.”

The minister also said: “Today marks the third year that we last launched the DSO in any state, and that was in Osun State on Feb. 23rd, 2018. You will recall that we launched the pilot programme in Jos, Plateau State, on April 30th, 2016, followed by Abuja on Dec. 22nd, 2016, then Ilorin, Kwara State, on Dec. 20th, 2017; Kaduna two days later on Dec. 22nd, 2017, Enugu on Feb. 12th, 2018 and finally, as I said earlier, Osogbo on Feb. 23rd, 2018.

“With the payment approval by FEC, and with 31 states to cover, we have our work cut out for us. We have no more excuses for not rapidly rolling out the DSO across the country, hence my decision to set up a 13-member Ministerial Task Force, which I will personally chair, to take charge of the rollout.”

He further said: “We will be pursuing a private-sector driven DSO, that there will be no more subsidies, either of Set-Top-Boxes or of Signal carriage, and that the process must be self-sustaining. I want to reiterate that point today.

“We have studied the trend and it is clear that we have to reduce government involvement in the DSO ecosystem and allow the private sector to take the lead, on purely commercial terms.

“With the devastating effects of COVID-19 and the fall in government revenues, the Federal Government can no longer afford to subsidise the programme, especially the Set-Top-Boxes and the Signal carriage, which ordinarily can and should be highly-competitive commercial ventures. And in order to begin the commercialisation of the DSO, we need to create a structure and an ecosystem that is self-sufficient, self-reliant and able to generate revenue which will drive strategic growth in key areas. The details of that structure are for the Task Force to explore.”

Mohammed also said the team was put in place to drive the DSO process because “a successful Digital Switch Over is a massive job creator and a huge revenue generator.”

On the job prospects, he said: “This process is capable of creating over one million jobs over the next three years. As part of our efforts to maximise the opportunities available in the process, we have made necessary changes in the Broadcast Code to protect local jobs and production, we have started the process of introducing world class Audience Measurement and Media Monitoring to deliver on our potential one-billion-dollar TV and Online Advertising revenue market and now we will ensure that the DSO ecosystem delivers value to the economy.

“As I have just mentioned, the DSO process is capable of delivering over one million jobs. These are not phantom jobs. They are real jobs, as I will demonstrate shortly.
“Manufacturing alone can create between 40 and 50 thousand jobs. This is because digitisation requires all homes to have a Set-Top-Box or Smart TV. Connectivity to the Internet is also possible via a dongle attached to the boxes. And here we are talking about 24 million boxes/TVs, for the over 24 million households that have television sets today in Nigeria.  Not even 20 Set-Top manufacturers can comfortably produce the initial requirements to feed the market. 

“Furthermore, our position in West Africa, coupled with our size, makes us the definite source of these products for the whole sub-region. TV production alone can create 200,000 jobs. Digitisation will make it possible to have at least 180 state channels, 30 regional channels and at least 10 national channels, catering for local music, news, film, children programming and sports, among others.

“This will create better competition because with the audience measurement and media monitoring system put in place you can now measure which programmes people are watching so that value is rewarded.”

In the area of film production, the minister said this “can generate 350 to 400,000 jobs. Just as Nollywood moved from VHS tapes to VCD and DVD, it will now, with digitalisation, move to Push and Subscription Video-On-Demand on the Set-Top-Boxes and online, thus curbing piracy, making distribution cheaper and easier and putting more money into the pockets of film producers, who will in turn create more films of better quality, ultimately surpassing the current 2000 movies a year.

“The number of writers, lightning/sound/camera technicians, editors, actors and actresses, costume makers, etc, will grow exponentially, and the over 24 million Digital TV Households will become Nollywood customers in a more transparent, closer and formal manner due to digital distribution.”

 “As an extension to the booming production business, another 200,000 jobs can be created as Nigeria finally grows the capacity to meet the quality demand of fully-indigenous content creations, which will bring back the over 100 million dollars currently exported to South Africa, Europe and the United States by Nigerian producers, while seamlessly expanding the tourism potential of Nigeria as the rest of Africa come to the country for high quality production,” he said.

On distribution, he said “to supply the market with Set-Top-Boxes, TVs and Dongles required for internet connection, Nigeria will need at least 100,000 wholesalers, retailers, electricians, installers, marketers and payment solution providers in order to cover the entire country.

“TV and Online Advertising can create a further 50,000 jobs: The concept of
advertising will become more local than national, because you can target customers at the bottom of the income bracket with products specific to their needs and location and, of course, fast moving consumer goods will have more forensic proof of their customers and what they watch and where they are.

“Finally, with a successful DSO, the problem of internet connection to every home will finally be solved. The Set-Top-Box in every home will deliver internet and consequently access and commerce to every home. Apps will be created to offer goods and services and for interaction and entertainment at every level. Most importantly, the spectrum that is freed up by digitisation will become much more
monetizable by the mobile/data companies and therefore more valuable to the government. This is capable of creating 200,000 jobs by internet entrepreneurs.”
The minister also said “a successful DSO is not just a job spinner, creating over one million jobs in three years, but also a money spinner. The challenge to all of us now is to make the process a success.”

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