The implications of convergence

Broadcasting and telecommunications are in many African countries treated as separate, vertical markets.  Digital convergence means that telecoms operators have become involved in broadcasting and broadcasting companies are looking at how they might deliver Internet and voice services. The continent’s first real Triple Play offer (with the customer receiving television, voice and Internet) has been launched in Kenya by Wananchi. But often the two sectors are separately regulated or spectrum is regulated by the telecoms regulator and other broadcasting issues by a separate body. Integrated regulators dealing with both broadcasting and telecommunications are in the minority.

Many telecoms regulators will be able to generate a new stream of income from the sale of spectrum released once the digital transition is complete. There remain considerable arguments over whether this released spectrum should remain with the broadcasters or be released for telecoms use. But whatever happens, there will be a new stream of income but where will it go?

Elsewhere in the world, public broadcasters are increasingly using their funding to create complementary Internet platforms that make use of the more interactive forms of content creation (for example, blogs and citizen journalism). The equivalent development in Africa has been the much narrower use of SMS for programme voting and the equivalent of letters. However, as the Internet grows in Africa, both public and private broadcasters will begin to develop a more interactive approach to broadcasting and its relationship to audiences. Should this interactive approach to media be encouraged by public funding?