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Digitisation project remains under-funded

Zimbabwe’s eight-year-old digitisation project, which now requires a total of about US$173 million to be completed, remains under-funded, latest statistics from the country’s recently published 2020 mid-term fiscal policy review has shown.

Digitisation of the broadcasting industry refers to migration from analogue to digital platforms which are more efficient.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) had set 17 June 2015 as the deadline for countries to have digitised their broadcasting sector, a deadline which Zimbabwe fell far short of meeting.

After setting for itself a fresh deadline of March 2016, Zimbabwe went on to miss it before pushing the completion of the exercise to mid-2017, which also was not to be.

Once completed, the programme would result in the creation of more frequencies to accommodate more television stations in the country, among other benefits.

“To date, an equivalent of US$69.55 million dollars has been disbursed to the project with the balance of about US$103.45 million still required to project completion,” said Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, in his budget review statement last Thursday.

“The biggest challenge to the project is the shortage of foreign currency which is hindering foreign payments for more equipment deliveries. The scope of the project is also being reviewed to rationalize against requirement in view of the time lapse from contract signing.”

He said alternative ways of financing the project were also being explored, particularly the potential of the digital dividend spectrum.

“Completion of this project will see more channels with better picture quality and improved reception being delivered to the public. There will also be a significant improvement in radio coverage with both radio and television coverage expected to improve from about 55% to at least 80% of the population. The need for content on the digital platform is going to create a business opportunity for content producers in the production of digital content, creating employment opportunities in the Zimbabwean creative arts industry and contributing towards the growth of the economy.”

Despite the financing challenges, Ncube said significant progress had been made following the completion of two out of six digital television studios at Pockets Hill in Harare, digitisation of eighteen transmitter sites, construction of thirteen out of twenty-five new television transmitter site towers, the renewal of five FM radio transmitter sites, among other developments.

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