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Cameroon’s Plan for Digital Broadcasting Mired in Controversy

Stockpile of analogue televisions in Douala, Cameroon
The era of analog audiovisual broadcasting is nearing an end in Cameroon.

The government of the Central African nation has begun implementing a schedule to adopt digital broadcasting in 2015.

But the plan, introduced with a ban on imports of analog television and radio sets is stirring unease and reproach among the country’s mostly cash-strapped residents.

The embargo on the importation of analog broadcast and reception equipment took effect on New Year’s Eve.

The decree -- signed by Prime Minister Philemon Yang -- did not end there. It adds that sales of analog TV and radio receivers will be outlawed in July. A complete digital switchover is planned for June. The effort is in keeping with a global deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union in 2006.

There are now over a hundred public and private audiovisual media in the country using analog systems. They’ve been warned to discontinue analog transmissions within one year -- or be fined.

Digital broadcasting is the transmission of audio and video using numerically processed signals which -- unlike analogue -- can be combined into one signal.

Experts welcome it as the most important development in television technology since color TV in the 1950s.

Amadou Vamoulke, the Managing Director of the government-owned Cameroon Radio and Television, CRTV, says digital broadcasting enables the delivery of more channels with enhanced picture and sound quality.

"The new technology allows for one given transmitter to emit sounds and images directed to various channels," he explained. You have the possibility to have ten channels. Those who are inspired would produce as much as they can."

And that’s not all.

Digital signals are free from the interference and static common to analog reception, which is caused by weather, landscape and moving objects, like trains.

Videos are available on demand, viewers can record TV shows without videotape as well as access interactive services. Following the switchover, the current spectrum used for analog TV can be converted for other uses like high definition television and high-speed mobile broadband, thereby generating revenue.

But, not everyone is happy.

Traders and the general public across Cameroon are voicing discontent with the decisions they consider top-down and dictatorial.

Analog TV and radio sets are still on display in city shops. In one of them, vendor Evelyne Ngobbo, says she is selling them at giveaway rates before a sales ban comes into force.

"I was informed by boss two weeks ago," she says. "He has taken measures to liquidate the stocks we have. We are avoiding any blockage when the ministry takes on repressive measures."

Close by, Nancy Kwemo, an importer of brand new and used electronics appliances says the digital flat screens are far beyond the reach of average Cameroonians.

She says very few people buy the digital sets selling as from about $200 USD for sets with 22-inch screens. According to her, the absence of repair shops for defective flat screens is detering many from buying them.

Businessmen want import duties reduced so they can sell the digital devices at affordable rates. However, ecologists worry about the potential damage to the environment as millions of analog receivers are dumped.

The government has yet to respond to such concerns.

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