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NCA to sanction GBC, SMART TV over illegal digital services

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The National Communications Authority (NCA) has said it will enforce the laws against Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) and Swedish-based Next Generation Broadcasting (NGB), owners of SMART TV, if they do not desist from the illegal and controversial commercial pilot digital terrestrial television (DTT) services.

The Ministry of Communications, through the NCA, has directed all independent broadcasters licensed for DTT to wait for policy guidelines to be completed and passed into law for a smooth unified nationwide migration from analogue to digital TV.

At this stage the draft guidelines have been completed by the National Digital Migration Committee (NDMC) and submitted to the Ministry of Communications on August 30, 2010 for approval and forwarding to Parliament.

While the other licensed broadcasters are patiently waiting for the policy guidelines to come into force, GBC and NGB have stolen start under the guise of a commercial pilot service without the authorization of the NCA, and clearance from the National Media Commission (NMC).

Mr. Edmund Yirenkyi Fianko of the Frequency Management Division of the NCA said GBC and NGB have no authorization to start any pilot commercial services yet.

“If GBC maintains an entrenched position and refuses to cooperate with the regulator, the necessary enforcement measures will be taken against them,” he said.

NGB started their illegality months back, when they launched their commercial services under the SMART TV brand name against the open warnings by the NCA to desist.

In April this year NGB invited individual officials of the NCA, including Mr. Joshua Peprah, Director of Regulatory Administration, to the launch of SMART TV on April 30, 2010.

Mr. Peprah wrote back to NGB on April 23, 2010 asking them to suspend the launch because they did not have TV broadcasting authorization nor a license for DTT.

NGB only has a dealership license to sell decoders and not to do television broadcasting.

But on April 28, 2010, two days before the proposed launch of SMART TV, GBC wrote a letter, signed by the Director-General, William Ampem-Darko, to NCA informing them of some contract they have with NGB to do commercial pilot DTT in Accra and Kumasi under the brand name, SMART TV.

GBC named NGB as a consultant, but the NCA said the contract document itself did not corroborate GBC’s claims, and GBC eventually aborted that plan.

“The provisional authorization for the second frequency assigned to GBC has since been withdrawn,” he said.

Whiles the NCA was under the impression that GBC, like all the members of the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) are working within the plan for a smooth nationwide migration, GBC and NGB have already started operating the service and selling SMART TV decoders on GTV.

Mr. Fianko said since GBC and NGB started their illegality, they have both failed to attend meetings of the NDMC and have been dodgy about their controversial relationship.

Meanwhile the Executive Council of GIBA is pushing the NCA to take action against GBC and NGB.

In two separate letters dated May 5, 2010 and June 18, 2010, GIBA asked the NCA why SMART TV and GBC has been allowed to start operations while the other stakeholders are still waiting for the policy guidelines.

GIBA noted that “some of our members had to slow-down on their already existing commercial activities in the digital terrain to compliment the works done by the NDMC.”

One of the letters state that the NGB Group has access to the Swedish pension funds and is seeking to penetrate the African Region with their digital TV trade through relationships, which are “unacceptable and unsupportive of the future of broadcasting in Ghana.”

It described the NGB/GBC action as an ‘illegality’ and called on the NCA to enforce the rules in that regard.

Meanwhile, some of the local channels, like TV Africa, advertised on GTV as being part of the channels on SMART TV decoders have asked NGB to take their names off the advert because they do not want to be part of the illegality.

By Samuel Dowuona

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