A downer on digital
My second name (besides Julian, Eliot, Gough - what were my parents thinking?) should have been digital. "G D Berger". Since I realised the power of digital compression, without which ICT would not exist, I've been a promoter of all things digital.
But in the past year, something's gone sour. It's called digital migration. This is a process so complex and so costly, that it would need to be worth mega-benefits if it was to happen.
It came to me recently that the whole agenda arises from environments where there's pressure on frequency spectrum. The idea is to clear analogue transmission of television off the airwaves, introduce digitally compressed signals, and end up with more TV channels possible - and chunk of vacated spectrum for other purposes (like wireless broadband internet). Oh, it also means TV set manufacturers can sell new devices which can receive and display digital TV (including the possibility of HD).
That all makes sense if you live in the First World, where TV stations want more channels, ISPs and Cellphone companies need more spectrum, and manufacturers want to sell gadgets.
It makes much less sense in Africa, which is not a media-dense environment, which is still rolling out wireless telephony, and where there is barely a lucrative market for expensive new TV sets.
It makes even less sense if you see how much it costs African broadcasters to rekit, the signal distributors to re-engineer, the consumers to buy set-top boxes (to view the digital broadcasts on ... guess what, their analogue TV sets!), and for the new system to run parallel to the old for an average of three years (with increased costs linked to dual transmission). And for governments to subsidise much of this with taxpayers money.
All this digimigration-pessimism I fed into the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation at a conference this week. In one presentation, I fingered the myths of digital switchover. In a second, I tackled the neglected subject within "broadcast digital migration" - the difference between TV digital migration, and Radio digital migration.
It came as a shock that the SA Government recently disbanded its model thinktank of stakeholder interests on digital migration, the "Digital Dzonga". But maybe we need to go further, and put the whole thing on hold while we rather invest in other digital development: broadband cables, digital content, satellite capacity, school and community internet access, etc.
Those kind of developments would make me a lot more digitally optimistic.
Right now, digital migration is a solution to a problem that is not particularly pressing, and we're still a long way from conditions that would make it an appropriate priority in terms of building an Information Society.
(More on this topic at my Thoughtleader blog.