The Introduction of Digital Terrestrial TV in Georgia: Moving forward
This document is meant to provide input and recommendations to the Georgian government for the next steps in the process to replace analogue terrestrial television with digital terrestrial television by 17 June 2015. Since coming to power, the government has organized several round-table discussions and initiated working groups on the switchover, but nonetheless the process has made limited substantial progress. In order to meet the important deadline, to which Georgia has committed in an international agreement, the government will need to allocate more resources and step up its efforts to move the process forward.
Transparency International (TI) Georgia supports efforts to carry out a transparent, fair, competitive and well-managed process to award the operation of digital broadcasting networks, to establish an amended regulatory framework and to ensure that the audience is informed and receives assistance, so that everybody will be able to benefit from the advantages of digital TV.
The switchover process should aspire to
- create a broadcasting sector that is sustainable, pluralistic, diverse and largely driven by market forces rather than government intervention;
- provide universal and easy access for consumers to a pluralistic portfolio of free-to-air channels, with targeted assistance being provided to vulnerable groups such as households below the poverty line, to elderly, and those living in remote communities;
- establish non-discriminatory and transparent access to network operators for all content providers, with low barriers for market entry;
- make efficient use of existing infrastructure and encourage cooperation between market actors.
What does the digital switchover mean in practice?
The benefits of digital terrestrial TV (“digital dividend”)
- The audience will be able to enjoy better sound and image quality, including channels in high-definition (HD) and new features, such as an electronic programme guide (EPG). Channels will be able to offer additional services, such as optional subtitles, additional information on their programs, or sounds in various languages.
- Consumers will be able to have access to more free-to-air channels via antenna than are currently available and will likely also be able to subscribe to DTT pay-TV packages.
- Broadcasting frequencies will no longer be a scarce resource, TV stations will be able to more freely enter the market and rent transmission capacity from a MUX operator, resulting in less necessity for government regulation of content providers.
- DTT will make more efficient use of airwaves. Frequencies currently used for analogue TV broadcasting will become available and can be allocated to other purposes. The switchover will enable the GNCC to auction off licenses for 4G/LTE mobile broadband operations, generating significant income for the government and contributing to the development of high-speed mobile Internet access.
Key recommendations to move forward:
- The Ministry of Economy (MoE) should finalize and publish a digital switchover strategy with a timeline and specific actions required by various stakeholders;
- The MoE and the Georgian National Communication Commission (GNCC), which should be more closely involvd in the process, should settle on policy approaches for key issues, including the topics outlined in this document;
- The MoE, the GNCC and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) should draft all required legal amendments (eg to the Law on Electronic Communication) that are required for holding a beauty contest to select operators of the digital network (MUX), including defining relevant policies and regulatory approaches;
* Draft amendments should then be published and made available for a public consultation process, allowing stakeholders to submit comments;
- The MoE should ensure it has sufficient staff, resources and expertise to move the process forward;
* The government should set up a task force consisting of individuals with relevant expertise and experience who would be able to ensure consistent progress, coordinate tasks and responsibilities between various government and private sector stakeholders and launch a public information campaign to inform and prepare citizens and stakeholders, such as importers and retailers of equipment, for the switchover;
- Instead of seeking to identify only one private operator for the operation of 6 multiplex networks, the MoE should seek to allocate 3 multiplex networks, each to two private operators (both being required to allocate 1 multiplex each to free-to-air channels), to achieve the highest possible level of competition;
- The government should set up and pay into a Digitalization Fund, from which costs for subsidized decoder boxes, a public relations campaign and other switchover-related efforts could be covered in a transparent manner. Instead of mandating private network operators to carry the full burden of providing and distributing set-top boxes, as is currently envisioned, network operators could be asked to contribute to the Digitalization Fund.
- Immediate government funding would also allow launching the crucial process of informing the general public in the near future, rather than only after one or several operators have launched their activities at some point next year. Consumers need to become aware of the switchover, so that households that consider buying a new TV set can make better informed decisions and buy one that is fully DVB-T2 compatible;
- The government should take responsibility to ensure that all people, especially those who are highly vulnerable for social or economic reasons, will be able to receive a pluralistic portfolio of TV channels after the analogue switch off – either through DTT or other platforms: cable/IPTV or satellite. Thus, strong and coordinated efforts are needed to plan and launch a timely public information campaign, to provide targeted assistance in the form of subsidized set-top boxes and technical consultations to households.
The G-MEDIA program is made possible by support from the American people through USAID. The content and opinions expressed herein are those of Transparency International Georgia and do not reflect the views of the U.S. Government, USAID or IREX.