TV stations, Regulator heading for showdown

Television stations warn they are on track for a potential legal stoush with the Office of the Regulator if they are unable to comply with an order to switch to a Digital T.V. broadcasting platform by next Friday. 

The requirement is one of several aspects in an order issued by the Regulator to all T.V. stations this week, including the imposition of a monthly connection tariff of more than $23,400. 

That order has since been filed via the Supreme Court, giving it the legal force of a Court order. 

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, local broadcasters have expressed concerns that they will have difficulty to meet the requirements contained in the Regulator’s order. 

Managing Director of TV3, Maposua Corey Keil, said the $23,473 monthly tariff is only one of several costs the company has to pay. 

He said there are additional costs of about US$29,000 to buy a microwave link transmitter required to connect to the digital platform. 

That cost, he said, does not include the fees for technicians required to connect to the digital link, freight and duty. 

“Until we can sort out the costs, if we can pay for all of that (on top of the tariff), I don’t think we are able to meet the deadline,” said Maposua. 

“It is like leading us to the cliff. Those monthly costs will add up and at some point we won’t be able to pay it and we will go broke and all of a sudden we will have to close down and put a lot of employees out of work.” 

The Regulator’s Office wrote to all General Managers of T.V. stations this week to notify them of the consequences of not complying with the order. 

The order instructs the TV stations that “all licensed Broadcasting Service Providers (T.V.) are required to connect to the Digital Platform no later than Friday 15th November 2019.”

“The Regulator hereby approves ST$23,473 per month as tariff to be levied on T.V. Broadcasters commencing 1st February 2020 for 6 months ending on 31st July 2020,” the order states.

It also noted that the existing analogue system will be switched off on 31st January 2020.

“Failure to comply with this order shall result in the [Office of the Regulator] taking appropriate legal action by way of prosecution for non-compliance to the law and/or the revocation of broadcasters licence in accordance with section 27 and 66 of the Act," the order states. 

Maposua said the T.V. stations want to continue broadcasting but if the cost of connecting to Digital TV is not reconsidered then the company will have to go out of business. 

He added that the new management which recently acquired the station was not privy to the previous consultation on the issue. 

The Samoa Broadcasting Corporation Limited (S.B.C.L.) Chief Executive Officer, Galumalemana Faiesea Lei Sam, echoed the same concerns. 

Galumalemana said the S.B.C.L. wanted to connect to Digital T.V., but they are asking for a price they can afford. 

“All the Regulator is looking at is the benefit and interest of the Digital T.V. but our concerns have been ignored,” she said. 

“We just want something that we can afford, a win-win solution but the Regulator has continued to threaten us with warnings to revoke our license.” 

Meanwhile, church T.V. stations that say they do not turn significant profits have not been spared the standard tariff and therefore the ongoing involving Digital T.V. 

The General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa (C.C.C.S.), Rev. Vavatau Taufao, said the tariff is not affordable for the church's station: E.F.K.S. T.V. 

“If E.F.K.S. continues with that amount then we need to submit a proposal in the next Fono Tele [General Assembly] in May 2020 for funds so our T.V. can survive,” he responded in an email. 

“And if the Fono Tele rejects then the best solution for E.F.K.S. .T.V. is closing down.” 

Rev. Taufao said he is not sure at this stage if the church T.V. can be able to comply with the order on the time given. 

While the T.V. station says all other aspects of its transition to digital T.V. are in place, the channel is yet to connect its microwave link, a process they say is dependent on the company they bought the transmitter from.

The Chairman of the Samoa Digital Communication Ltd (S.D.C.L.), Faamausili Andrew Ah Liki, declined a request to comment.

The background to the Digital Platform Broadcasting Tariff on the Regulator’s order states that in March 2019, the S.D.C.L. submitted its proposed tariff of $40,000 per month for each T.V. station.

On 16 August 2019, the Regulator calculated a new determined tariff of $35,759 per month.

“However, consequential to discussions between S.D.C.L. and Government [intervening on behalf of T.V. broadcasters the] S.D.C.L. submitted a new tariff and arrangement to the Regulator,” the order said.

In addition it stated that S.D.C.L. has “accepted at its own cost to subsidize the official tariff as determined by the Regulator for a grace period of six months upon achieving 95 per cent coverage”.

The tariff to be imposed by S.D.C.L. per month is $23,473 per month from each T.V. station, starting from February 2020.

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