Digital TV spat unnecessary, time to find a compromise that will benefit country

Samoa is moving with the times. Judging from a number of recent developments, the Government is making a decent effort to ensure this country is not left behind in the era of digital transformation and modernisation.

Take the recent launch of the Digital Television Project for instance. During the dedication in front of the Government building, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi hailed the project as a major milestone.

“In 1993, Government had prioritized television as a broadcast service when the late Honourable Tofilau Eti Alesana was the Prime Minister of Samoa,” Tuilaepa recalled. “Manu Samoa also won the Hong Kong Sevens Cup for the first time in that year, during which our people watched live transmission for the first time.   At the time, coverage was limited.  It did not reach other areas of the country outside of the Apia City areas.”

That was then. With the Digital TV, limited coverage will soon become a thing of the past. While the first phase launched will cover 70 per cent of viewers in Samoa, the second and third phase scheduled to be completed in 2020, promises to provide full coverage for the entire country.

That means Samoans everywhere can enjoy the benefits of digital television, which are already enjoyed and available to people in some of the biggest countries in the world. The Government and everyone involved in the project must be commended. These are positive developments necessary for Samoa to keep up with the rest of the world.

According to a statement issued by Office of the Regulator after the launch, they “expect the project to lift the broadcasting industry by promoting coverage and providing quality transmission in terms of signal strength.”  

“There will be eight channels of which all eight are Free to Air services and will use this network to access all its target audience,” the statement said.  “It also means that the level of competition is expected to foster quality programmes and at appropriate costs.”  

Well that’s wonderful, isn’t it? Except that the question of “appropriate costs” has become a festering sore in an ongoing dispute between the people responsible for the Digital platform and the local TV stations, who have expressed alarm at the prospect of paying a $35,759 monthly tariff to use the platform. Unhappy with the cost they’ve been asked to pay, some TV stations have done what most people in Samoa do – complain to Prime Minister Tuilaepa.

In response, the Prime Minister has written to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupa’i, asking him to consider the complaint.

"Consider the complaint about the monthly tariff of $37,759 to be paid by one TV station," a translation of the Prime Minister's letter reads. "What is your response to this curse?”

Tuilaepa added: “The digital [T.V.] was established to assist the people and yet it appears it will kill the television stations which have served (Samoa) for a long time."

When the Samoa Observer contacted Minister Afamasaga for a comment, he defended the tariff.

Listen to him: “The tariff was worked out by the Regulator in the beginning on the communications with the company [Samoa Digital Communications Limited]; as it is the role of the Regulator.

“They have been informed a long time ago that the government is moving forward with the digital T.V. [project] and now the government has also stepped in to negotiate the rates.

 “The television stations were asked to submit their financial [statements] to the Regulator to work out the tariff but the Regulator waited but they did not comply.”

It would certainly be interesting to hear from the television stations.

What do they have to say for themselves? We say this because in yesterday’s Samoa Observer, a lengthy statement issued by the Office Regulator, made for some very interesting reading.

We encourage you to get a copy of the paper and read it for yourself.

“The broadcasters do not have knowledge of regulatory aspects for tariff calculations, as they were not privileged to regulatory capacity building on calculating tariffs in the broadcasting market,” part of the statement reads.

 “The Office of the Regulator wishes to advise the broadcasters of the need to hire economists to recommend the real market analysis and how finances and expenses are collected and also the standards the OOTR is using to calculate tariffs.

 “For the broadcasters to insist on lowering the tariff that OOTR sets as mandated by law is disrespectful.”

Wow. Was there really a need for all that to be said?

We get it that this Government is full of laui’a, including the Office of the Regulator. But when businesses like TV stations complain about the cost of something, is that being “disrespectful” or are they merely trying to survive?

Keep in mind that unlike the Office of the Regulator and all the government bodies, who have taxpayers to fork out for whatever they do, times are tough for the business community. They deserve a helping hand.

The point is that let’s hope common sense will prevail. Instead of continuing this unnecessary public spat, for the sake of the community they serve, they need to put aside their differences, and compromise so that all Samoans will one day get to enjoy the benefits promised by such a wonderful platform as the Digital TV project.

What do you think?

Have a great Tuesday Samoa, God bless!








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