Constitutional Court delays shutdown of analogue television in South Africa and required mobile network bandwidth

The Constitutional Court has ruled that South Africa cannot turn off its analogue television signals on June 30, 2022.

In a unanimous decision in favor of E-tv in the latest battle to transition South Africa from analogue to digital television, the court declared the June 30 deadline irrational and illegal.

Judge Nonkosi Mhlantla wrote in the verdict that Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntsavheni erred on several counts.

“The decision of the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies not to notify and not to take into account the submissions received on the day of the disconnection of analogue communications is illegal and is canceled,” the Constitutional Court ruled.

“The Minister’s decision to set a deadline for registration of set-top boxes to October 31, 2021, without taking into account the number of people who will be negatively affected by the shutdown of analogue television, made this process irrational.”

Households that do not have satellite service or a television capable of receiving digital terrestrial signals require a decoder-like set-top box (STB).

These STBs convert digital TV broadcasts into a signal that older analog TVs can display.

Poor households are eligible for a free STB. However, Ntsavheni has set a deadline of October 31, 2021 for households in need to register for a free box.

The Court ruled that steps taken prior to October 2021 were not considered urgent and there was insufficient evidence of steps taken by the Minister between February 2021 and October 2021 to notify the public of the urgent need for registration for STB.

“Because the process was imperfect, the Minister did not have the necessary information about the number of persons who qualified and wished to register in state-owned set-top boxes before the analogue shutdown date,” the court said.

Regarding setting a cutoff date for analogue, Mhlantla found it procedurally inappropriate for the Minister to set one without proper notice to the industry and affected parties.

Ntsavheni had to ask the opinion of the interested parties on this issue.

“As a result, the decision of the Minister not to notify and not to take into account the submissions received in connection with the disconnection of the analogue from the population or affected parties was declared illegal,” the court ruled.

The Constitutional Court also stated that the minister’s executive powers include setting the date for the shutdown of analog television and the deadline for registering set-top boxes.

However, it was found that the Minister did not use this right rationally and lawfully.

The Constitutional Court overturned the original High Court ruling in favor of Ntsawheni and replaced it with a ruling declaring the cut-off date for analog television and the deadline for registering set-top boxes to be unconstitutional, void and rescinded.

In addition, the Court ordered the Minister to pay the applicants’ legal costs, including the costs of two lawyers.

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