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CTO urges Caribbean nations to fast track switch to digital broadcasting

Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Shola Taylor, has warned Caribbean countries to step up their speed in driving transition to digital broadcasting.

According to Taylor, the feat will enable them join the comity of nations in enjoying the economic dividends and social benefits of Digital Switch over (DSO).

Taylor spoke at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Digital Broadcasting Caribbean Forum’17, which took place recently in Kingston, Jamaica to examine the challenges and solutions for digital broadcasting in the region.

He said “The benefits of transitioning to digital broadcasting are clear,” noting that “The digital dividend realised by switchover can meet the growing demand for wireless communication, such as mobile broadband. The switchover also provides the opportunity for better quality and more innovative broadcasting services. These new digital broadcasting services offer large commercial value to the Caribbean, which could be a leading exporter to other regions and I challenge the region to accelerate the transition and reap the social and economic benefits of digital broadcasting.”

Other dignitaries who spoke alongside Nigeria’s taylor include Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, youth and information of Jamaica, Gary Allen, president of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union, Patricia Sinclair McCalla, commissioner at the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, Rochelle Cameron, vice chairman and director of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations, Ansord E Hewitt, director-general of the Office of Utilities Regulation of Jamaica and Ilham Ghazi, head of broadcasting services division at the Radio communication Bureau of the ITU. The ceremony was chaired by Cordel Green, executive director of the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica.

The high-level speakers agreed on the need to speed up progress on digital switchover in the Caribbean.

In his remarks, Allen said “We have been talking about digital switch over in the Caribbean for 10 years,” stressing that “We must not be talking about it still in 10 years’ time. CBU members need to have clear policy and regulatory plans for how indigenous media will be facilitated to transition.”

Also speaking, Ms Sinclair McCalla, argued that “The global march towards digitization has made the transition to digital TV an inevitable imperative for the broadcasting industry in the Caribbean.

“Broadcasting has changed and we are entering a new era,” said Ms Cameron. “Policymaking and regulation in the Caribbean should support this digital future and we must all get on board.”

“We cannot meet the challenges and demands of present and future generations by operating in a business as usual manner,” said Mr Hewitt.

The event heard about the digital switchover experiences of countries from across the Commonwealth and beyond: the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Haiti, Nigeria, Samoa, South Africa, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, the UK and the USA. The event also examined the technical considerations of digital broadcasting, opportunities for innovative services and the role of public broadcasting in the digital age.

Fifty-four member countries of the ITU have completed the process of switching their broadcasting from analogue to digital. However, no independent Caribbean country has completed the process, with many not yet having started.

Key outcomes from the event included agreement that local content is important.

Reliable, local broadcasting services are vital in times of national emergency (as we have seen recently following the tropical storms in the Caribbean).

Local content can draw on the richness of a local culture and also provide income through exporting to other markets.

Digital switchover is a costly process: some countries have invested significant public funds, while in others this is not available.

Support needs to be given to the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

Regions can, and should, work together on the digital transition, especially with regard to standards and frequency coordination.

Regulation is important in order to ensure the digital dividend is wisely apportioned and that content is not illegal.