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DTT and the Conditional Access Debate

June 2014

Basic definitions: What is conditional access (CA)? What is set top box
control (STB)? What is the difference?
A conditional access system is an encryption or signal scrambling system.
Encryption is usually used in the pay-TV environment. However, more recently
a number of countries have started to adopt encryption systems in the free-toair TV environment i.e. where audiences receive TV without paying
subscriptions. In the pay-TV environment encryption allows only those who
pay for the service to watch the service. In the free-to-air environment
encryption is used for other issues such as preventing the copying of
television content or restricting the geographic area in which the STB can be
used. (See question 2 below for details.)
In terms of definitions - set top box control is the South African term for
conditional access. The terms can be used interchangeably.
On a technical level in South Africa the signal is encrypted at the point of
transmission. The encrypted signal is then decoded or unlocked by the
decoder / set top box. The encryption software in the decoder needs to be the
same encryption software that is used to encrypt the signal at transmission.

Overview: What are the advantages / disadvantages of having conditional

access / encryption in set-top-boxes / decoders?
According to eTV and others in the pro-encryption camp the most important
advantage is that encryption will help to create a smart platform that will
allow citizens to access a number of benefits from their TVs. Encryption will
allow for the creation of set of uniform, addressable decoders. (Addressable
means that individual messages can be sent to individual decoders.) Viewers
will receive information (such as the electronic programme guide) in a uniform
format. It will be easier for call centres to assist viewers.

There will be benefits for SA manufacturers because the encryption system

will be specific to South Africa and will limit the flooding of the SA market with
foreign boxes. Each STB will have a unique number authorised to carry the
CA software. This means it can be de-authorised from receiving the encrypted
broadcast signal.
Further, encryption will stop pay operators from simply picking up the signals
of free to air broadcasters on their bespoke STBs so that viewers receive them
along with the other content on the pay TV packages. The pay TV operators
will need to either compensate free to air broadcasters for their programming
or come to some other commercial arrangement for the FTA channel/s to be
available to their subscribers.
Also, encryption software will stop the theft of decoders and their export over
the border because encrypted decoders can be prevented from receiving
encrypted signals.
Finally, encryption will benefit government because they will be able to send
individual messages to individual decoders in a variety of languages i.e.
encryption will facilitate e government services.
In a nutshell e.TV and others have argued that without encryption there will be
chaos in the digital terrestrial TV environment. There will be a plethora of
cheap, imported boxes with no controlled base to implement e-government
services. There will be no common look and feel for the platform. The platform
in the end will struggle to compete with pay-TV.
On the other side MultiChoice, the SABC, the community TV association, ActSA and the manufacturers organisation, NAMEC have fought against
encryption. The main argument from the MultiChoice side is that encryption is
expensive. Also, it is unnecessary. They argue that encryption is a system that
should only be used in the pay-TV environment. They argue that one of the
key factors for a successful migration process is cheap, accessible decoders
and that including an encryption system undermines this.

Competition: What impact does encryption have on the broadcasting

landscape in terms of competition, if any?
The issue of competition is critical. We need to create a broadcasting
environment that allows for the thriving of new as well as established players.
e.TV argues that conditional access / encryption is an important issue here.
We need encryption to ensure that we create a strong, attractive, uniform freeto-air platform that will be able to compete effectively with entrenched pay-TV
The independent producers (SASFED) and SOS have been pushing very hard
for the principle of interoperability of decoders. They have argued that this is
a key competition issue. They have argued that we need interoperability so

that people will be able to buy a single decoder and access multiple services
from multiple broadcasters. They have argued that the issue of encryption is
important here because different encryption systems pose a threat to
interoperability. If different operators use different encryption systems then it is
essential that decoders available to the public can read all these different
systems. SASFED has argued that to deal with the issue of interoperability we
need a set top box / decoders to have a plug-in common interface (CI). The CI
should accept a conditional access module (CAM). This will ensure that one
decoder can be used for various conditional access systems and that viewers
can buy a single box and still receive multiple broadcasting services.

NB It is important to note that there are a number of hurdles to win the battle
for interoperability. Although the original digital migration policy, 2008 talked
about the importance of interoperability, this principle was left out in
subsequent versions of the policy. The current specification for government
subsidised decoders does not include the principle of interoperability.
Apparently the reason for this exclusion was issues of cost.

Costs: How much does CA/ encryption add to the cost of each decoder?
What are the hidden costs (e.g. specific call centre support)?
The anti-encryption lobby has argued that costs will be significant. These
costs will include costs for installation of encryption software and hardware in
each decoder. (Costs of the software are paid by manufacturers and costs of
the hardware will be passed on to consumers.) Costs will also include costs to
encrypt the signal at transmission. (These costs are carried by the
broadcasters, including a payment to government for use of the CA system if
government is able to have its chosen CA system built in to the STBs.) They
have also claimed that there will be significant call centre costs.
The pro-encryption lobby have argued that these costs have been greatly
exaggerated. The costs are manageable (at around R20 - R30 per STB).
Further, the issue of call centre costs are a red herring. Whether encryption is
used or not a call centre will be essential for DTT (Digital Terrestrial TV). e.TV
has in fact argued that call centre costs will come down with encryption
because there will be fewer problems with encrypted uniform boxes. The grey
imports encouraged by lack of encryption will be the decoders that will create
the lions share of call centre problems.

Local manufacture:
Is encryption really required to support local
manufacture of decoders / BBBEE / job creation?
Yes it will help local manufacturers. There will be a set of South African
specifications for SABS approved STBs. Although any company will be able to
manufacture decoders to these specifications, South African companies will be
best placed to do so because they will be authorised to support the CA
software. Encryption will prevent the flooding of South Africa with cheap

foreign imports because these will not be able to unscramble encrypted

broadcast signals.
Some manufacturers, such as those in NAMEC, are against encryption
because they will have to pay a fee of around R85 000 for certification by the
software vendor, if the CA system currently chosen by government is included.
Various civil society groupings however have argued that job creation through
manufacture of decoders should not be governments priority. The DTT
programme should be about ensuring access to free and affordable
programming and information. If one of the main purposes of encryption is job
creation this is misplaced. There are easier, cheaper ways of creating jobs.

International best practice: What other countries, if any, have introduced (or
are planning to introduce) CA / encryption for free-to-air Digital Terrestrial TV
broadcasters? What have been the outcomes in those markets?
e.TV states that although encryption systems have not traditionally been used
in the free-to-air environment, this is changing internationally. In recent times,
in developing countries (e.g. the Ukraine), encryption is being used to ensure
that audiences get the benefits mentioned above.

Piracy of programming: To what extent is CA necessary to protect copying

and piracy of high definition programming?
Piracy of programming is a big problem particularly with high definition content.
To some extent encryption does assist with piracy issues because it prevents
piracy of content while it is being transmitted. (Only particular decoders with
the requisite software can pick up the signal.) SASFED however has argued
that the major piracy problem is in fact at the level of the decoder. SASFED
has argued that what is required to prevent piracy at this level is a digital rights
management (DRM) system. This needs to be included in the specifications of
the decoder.
NB It is important to note that it is late in the day to introduce a new
specification to the decoder standards.

Theft: To what extent, if any, will CA prevent theft / resale / export of STBs?
And is CA a cost-effective deterrent in these cases?
Encryption does prevent theft. Boxes with an encryption system can be
prevented from receiving encrypted signals. A number of players have argued
that theft is a part of life - they are not sure that it is such an important issue
that an entire encryption system should be installed to prevent it.

Future technology: To what extent, if any, will CA prevent the introduction /

importation of fully integrated digital TV sets into the South Africa?

Ultimately we are moving to a situation where people will be buying integrated

digital TVs. The anti-encryption lobby has argued that including an encryption
system will have a negative impact on the adoption of new technology. Certain
advanced features of high-tech IDTVs, such as gesture recognition, may not
work if an STB is used. IDTV manufacturers may not deem it economically
feasible to include a CI slot in sets destined for the South African market.
The pro-encryption lobby has stated that the impact of encryption will have a
negligible impact because STBs are a fact of life for television viewers today
for instance all pay TV viewers have STBs and will continue to do so. STBs
can add value through added features, for example they can be used to store
content for later viewing.

STB specification: Would the withdrawal of the CA requirement force the

decoder / STB specification to be changed? If so, how long would this take?
Yes it would and there would be a time delay of least a couple of months.


Public service broadcasting: To what extent, if any, would CA undermine

the ideals of public service broadcasting, freedom of expression and access to
The pro-encryption lobby is arguing that encryption allows free-to-air
broadcasters including public service broadcasters a real chance to compete
with pay-TV in terms of a uniform look and feel of the platform and the ability
to provide premium HD content (e.g. the latest Hollywood movies) which might
have stringent copyright protection requirements, including geographic
limitations (i.e. only available in South Africa).
They argue that this is one of the most powerful ways to stop the drift to payTV. They argue that the drift to pay-TV will ultimately entrench a two-tier
broadcasting system where resources and quality programming is
concentrated in the pay sector leaving the poor with paltry pickings - limited
channels and poor quality programming.


Compromise position:
To what extent does the Department of
Communications (DoC) policy amendment (including conditional access in all
subsidised STBs, but making its use optional) resolve the issue?
The pro-encryption lobby is happy with governments compromise. The antilobby remains unhappy.
What is the way forward for SOS? To assess this it is important to look at
SOSs vision for a digital content landscape and SOSs vision for set top box /
The SOS Coalition envisages and campaigns for a digital content landscape

Includes a diversity of programming and content that reflects the diversity

of South Africa including those marginalised through issues of race,
ethcnicity, class, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation;
Includes increased local content;
Includes increased African language programming and content;
Includes increased public and community programming and content;
Includes increased genres of programming;
Ensures that the majority of quality programming and content is free-to-air
and accessible to all people living in South Africa;
Ensures dialogic communications, so that all people living in South Africa
have the ability both to receive and impart information, knowledge and
ideas and not just to be the passive recipients of messages from a few
information providers; and
Ensures the sustainability of all broadcasters including in particular free to
air broadcasters as these broadcasters are more accessible to all viewers.

In terms of set top box / decoders SOS campaigns for:

Cheap boxes;
Accessible boxes; (Viewers must be able to buy boxes easily from a
variety of retailers including the South African Post Office, which needs to
be geared to providing this service.)
Robust boxes;
Easy to install boxes with support systems in place to assist with
installation and also with faulty boxes; and
Boxes that ensure interoperability, i.e. a single box that allows for all
broadcasters to broadcast their services (possibly through a system of
access cards). Viewers should not have to buy a multitude of boxes to
access different services.

Given this vision and these principles SOS supports governments

compromise position.
SOS believes that it is important that free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters are
strengthened as they are the broadcasters that are accessible to everyone in
the country regardless of peoples ability to pay. To effectively compete with
pay broadcasters, FTA broadcasters must have the ability to encrypt their
channels. But further to this it is important that government ensures another
set of key principles:

That set top boxes are interoperable; and

That set top boxes are cheap and accessible. SOS believes that the
inclusion of an optional conditional access system will not significantly
increase the cost of the box. The costs of including this system are
outweighed by the potential benefits of supporting and boosting FTA