Digitalization Process is Flawed

Quetta, Analog to digital transition in Pakistan represents the most significant change to television broadcasting infrastructure in its history, with production, broadcasting, transmission and household reception all affected by the process. Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) had set the deadline of switchover for December 2015 but the target could not be achieved as the regulatory framework for digitalization was seriously flawed without having a clear vision or strategy in design and implementation of digitalization process in Pakistan said, Arzak Khan on launching of policy paper on digital switchover in Pakistan.

We at Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan believe that the switchover in Pakistan to an advanced digital television system is not the one that will follow a simple trajectory in which consumers will merely turn off analog television one day, and turn on digital one the next day as PEMRA is expecting. The transition to from analog to digital television brings with it a complex political, economic and cultural issues ranging from political maneuverings to economic disincentives and cultural resistance, said Arzak Khan.

Analog Cable television networks across Pakistan are providing one of the most affordable forms of entertainment and information services. One of the reasons for the faster adoption and growth of cable television services in Pakistan is the cost affordability factor and very low barriers to entry for households. It is relatively cheaper when compared to other telecommunication services like Broadband internet, IPTV and telephony services. PEMRA without any strategy or vision has embarked on one of the most complex technological transitions of the present era. Arzak Khan also pointed out that a successful digital switchover will depend on widespread consumer awareness of how digital television differs from conventional television and why it is worth investing in a new technology from a consumer perspective.

Widespread and comprehensive consumer education efforts need to be implemented by PEMRA along with involving all the stakeholders to educate consumers about DTV services if Pakistan is to successfully realize the digital switchover. Unfortunately, no one is in charge for the whole transition process, there is no comprehensive planning effort to address important issues and there isn’t even any effort underway to assess what portion of the public isn’t going to be prepared due to lack of awareness or information about digital TV services, said Arzak Khan.

He also urged the government to consider subsidizing the cost of the set-top box or provide them free to users to encourage digital TV adoption if it is serious about digital switchover. Government should consider spending some of the billions it earned from the sale of radio spectrum to lower the cost of access to digital services by subsidizing set-top boxes. Subsidies over set-top boxes have been provided in US, Germany, UK, Japan and China as well. Money spent on providing subsidy for the digital transition will pay off in the long run since the important thing to remember is that the transition is going to bring a lot of benefits in the form of reclaiming the spectrum which will further allow it to be used for something more valuable than TV broadcasting like consumer broadband in lower bands offering better penetration and speeds.