Digital migration company operating illegally - Parliament

UBC board of directors chairman Igeme Nabeta appears before the ICT parliamentary committee yesterday. PHOTO BY Geoffrey Sseruyange

What you need to know:

Operating without a licence exposes Signet and UBC to possible law suits.

PARLIAMENT- The switch from analogue to digital transmission could turn out disastrous after it emerged that Signet Uganda, the company that is currently distributing digital signals, has not been officially allowed to operate.

Parliament’s committee on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) yesterday heard that Signet Uganda applied for a licence from the Uganda Communications Commission but is yet to obtain permission to distribute signals.

Signet Uganda is envisaged to be operating under the aegis of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) when the national broadcaster fully undergoes unbundling to create different entities.

MPs warned that operating without a license exposes UBC and Signet Uganda to possible lawsuits -- akin to the ongoing stand-off in Kenya where a row between broadcasters and the Communications Authority of Kenya ended up in court and has led to the switching off of four major television stations.

Such a disagreement would affect the chances of beating the looming June 2015 deadline set by the global regulator in 2006 compelling all countries to switch from analogue to digital transmission.

The MPs had been alarmed by a revelation by Mr Sam Batanda, the manager Signet Uganda, that the company is already carrying digital signals in 17 upcountry sites where broadcasters will have to fork out between $3,000 and $5,000 (about Shs8.5m and Shs14.3m) to access the digital portal.

At least $19m (about Shs54.4b) has been pumped into the project while another $30m (about Shs85.9b) is needed to complete the entire switch, acting UBC managing director, Angello Nkezza, said in an interview later.

Committee chair Vincent BagIire warned that pumping cash into a yet-to-be licensed firm exposes the country risks similar to the Katosi road scam where Shs24.7b was lost in the controversial payment of Eutaw, an American firm whose existence is now disputed.

“If you are taken to court by the broadcasters and they say that you are distributing licenses illegally, you will not counter that. The results on migration are that there are still lots of inconsistencies and they will need to be sorted out,”Mr BagIire said.

Butambala Woman MP Mariam Nalubega said the entire digital migration process has been mismanaged by UBC.

“Do you first contract a company before licensing it? The procedure is already a fraud? This exercise should be done afresh. The law was not followed. When UBC comes here and lies that they have license ...,” Ms Nalubega said.

But Mr Igeme Nabeta, the board chairman UBC, played down the concerns of the MPs, saying Signet Uganda’s lack of a licence is a result of a “miscommunication between UBC and UCC” before insisting that Uganda cannot fall victim to a Kenya-like impasse. “The dynamics in Kenya are different,” he said.

Another meeting will be convened on Friday to clear the air over the inconsistencies.

With migration analogue to digital broadcasting, consumers will be required to purchase set-top boxes [decoders] -- a device that converts signals from digital television broadcasts to a format that can be viewed on traditional television sets.

There are, however, concerns over the expense of these set-boxes which cost between Shs120, 000 and Shs140, 000.