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By Ujuh

The South African government has changed the tune in its digital migration policy from one that features ‘subsidised’ set top boxes (STBs) for poor households to one that speaks of distribution of five million STBs for ‘free’.

The ‘totally free’ language has emerged in recent statements made by the department of communication and its principal Faith Muthambi.

In her latest statement on the matter Muthambi said “Government will provide free STBs to more than 5 million poor television household owners instead of a partial subsidy of 70% as previously approved in 2008.” This was upheld by the cabinet.

All along government was speaking about a differentiated subsidy to different income groups. A means test was already proposed by the Universal Services and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA).

The agency had proposed that only households earning less than R3 200 should qualify for the planned subsidy  STB) which will be needed to access digital television.

USAASA had proposed a cascading subsidy criteria. The proposal said households earning less than R1 500 should get a subsidy of 60% for DTT and 77% for Direct to Home (DTH) Satellite STB and antennae. Households earning between R1 501 and R1 999 should get a 36% DTT subsidy. Those earning between R2 000 and R2 499 should get 15% DTT subsidy. Whereas households earning between R2 500 and R3 200 should get 0% DTT subsidy and 29% for DTH.

This proposal has now been ditched in favour of a distribution of five million STB to poor households for free. The Post Office has been identified as a key player in this distribution of STB’s.

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