UBC to be switched off over Shs3.7b arrears

The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation offices in Kampala. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

Uganda migrated to the digital system in June 2015. This required all TV viewers to have a set-top-box (STB) or use a digital TV in order to receive television services.  The government promised that owners of STB decoders would not be required to pay a monthly subscription to watch free-to-air TV channels. 
 

The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC)’s satellite service provider has given the national broadcaster until September 30 to pay $988,225 (Shs3.7b) arrears or risk being switched off.
The move will affect more than 30 television channels and the free-to-air decoders that use UBC’s infrastructure to transmit services.  

According to the satellite service provider, Intelsat, UBC’s arrears have accumulated for more than a year now.
“We certainly would like to avoid such measures and would regret having to take actions that may result in termination of your services. We would also like you to consider opening a dialogue with us to consider governmental needs regarding connectivity requirements in Uganda,” the September 6 letter reads in part.

The Intelsat director of finance, Mr Hervy Mrjuna, wrote the letter to State Minister of ICT Godfrey Kabbyanga.
Earlier, on August 23, Mr Kabbyanga had written to Intelsat asking them not to suspend the services on grounds that the government is in a critical time of popularising mass vaccination against coronavirus and the parish development model. 
“The Ministry commits that satellite service provision to UBC be maintained, especially during this critical time that the government is popularising the mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19 and the parish development model,” Mr Kabbyanga said, adding that the termination of service would deprive the national broadcaster from communicating government programmes and the National Resistance Movement (the ruling party) manifesto.

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When contacted yesterday, Mr Kabbyanga confirmed writing to the Satellite provider. 
Mr Kabbyanga, however, said he didnot have an update on whether the UBC management had cleared its arrears. He urged us to talk to UBC management about the matter. 
The UBC Managing Director, Mr Winston Agaba, confirmed that they have not cleared the debt, adding that they were working out a plan with the Ministry of Finance to sort out the problem. 

“We are engaging the satellite service provider,” Mr Agaba said, adding that the funds they got for the first quarter of this financial year didn’t cater for satellite services.
The government this year made budget cut budgets for all government agencies due to financial constraints.
Mr Agaba said if Intelsat suspends the transmission, it will cause them litigation challenges since they have contractual obligations with more than 30 television stations.
“Switching off the satellite means that free-to-air services will go off air,” he said. 

When contacted about release of the funds, the spokesman of Ministry of Finance, Mr Jim Mugunga, said the UBC management should have a conversation with the stakeholders before crisis strikes.  “The UBC should be advised to engage their service provider with proof of funds and seek a repayment plan when the releases will be made for instance in the second quarter,” Mr Mugunga said. 
He said the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mr Ramathan Ggoobi, has an open-door policy and should be used by UBC management to engage him to solve the crisis. 
 

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