The Analog Shutdown

Photo: La tecla con café

By Mario Valdés Navia

The people of Sancti Spíritus should be proud to have the radio program Con voz propia (With Our Own Voice), where journalists and the audience exchange directly and openly with officials from the province’s structures. The direction and presence on air of the renowned and popular Elsa Ramos is a guarantee of the continued existence of that spirit.

The topic I heard discussed on Saturday, August 24 wasn’t for the faint of heart: the analog shutdown (AS) in the broadcasting of the Canal Educativo (Educational Channel). Whims of nature caused five municipalities of Sancti Spíritus to be selected as testing grounds from September.

From this moment, whoever doesn’t have a hybrid TV set or a converter box can no longer watch that channel. The biggest concern for the province’s audiences isn’t that, but the fact that the signal of their beloved local station Centrovisión Yayabo uses that spectrum, and it enjoys a well-earned status as a viewer favorite.

The problem comprises several aspects which were discussed by journalists and viewers in the form of three general questions: (1) How will the poor be able to buy a hybrid TV set in the TRDs (Cuba’s hard currency shops) if their price is between 10,000 and 20,000 pesos cash, or 1000 for the converter box, if you can find it? (2) When will credit be available for the purchasing of hybrid TV sets? (3) Why can’t both signals coexist for a longer time, as has been done almost everywhere, including China itself?

In favor of the Radio Cuba officials one must say that they gave answers for everything, in a clear and transparent language. That’s why it was possible to achieve fluent communication, even when dealing with technical matters which could be quite obscure for the general public. Even more surprisingly, in some cases both the journalists and the audience maintained their diverging views after they listened to the explanations of the officials.

The underlying question is that the countrywide AS was programmed for such an early date because getting rid of the costly and obsolete analog transmission and adopting the digital one would save millions of pesos. With Chinese help, there’s now good command of the technology used by Huawei, which is among the most modern worldwide. The problem is that TV sets cannot be imported from the West because they wouldn’t be compatible with it. They must be purchased at the TRDs.

The purpose of modernizing and lowering the cost of TV transmissions is quite praiseworthy; its application in such a short period of time, with the high prices of the basic technology kit and without helpful alternatives for low-income clients, strikes me as a monopolistic imposition. It is only comparable with the spreading of electrical cooking together with rising consumption rates.

The main complaints of clients are the elevated prices of the reception kit, the unavailability of credit to buy hybrid TVs, the difficulties to obtain credit and the high prices of parts and repairs. In fact the converter box’s motherboard costs 36 CUC, 90% of the total price of the equipment.

In this case, it is very positive that the State has planned the distribution of reception kits free of charge to pensioners and social cases. The problem is for the thousands of working-class families who cannot spend that sum all of a sudden –about 500 CUC/12,500 CUP in the best of cases–, because many have simply never seen that kind of money in their entire lives.

In my opinion, viable solutions in an immediate term revolve around pushing back the deadline for eliminating the analog signal, making hybrid TVs and converter boxes cheaper at the TRDs, relaxing conditions for the granting of commercial credit to those who need it in order to buy the full kit and not just the converter box, extending warranty periods and creating better material conditions for the maintenance of the equipment.

The real and definitive solution for situations such as this one should have to wait for the advent of two combined transformations: the elimination of the duality of currency and exchange rate, and a general reform of wages and prices which brings about a better correspondence between the standard of living of workers and their families and the contribution each person makes to the common welfare.

Since these have been pending for so long now, I believe it is better that we focus on those which are immediately viable. Meanwhile, the people of Sancti Spíritus should go on enjoying Con voz propia where, at least, journalists, officials and listeners learned to call a spade a spade, without subterfuges or secrecy.

Contact the author at: mariojuanvaldes@gmail.com

(Translated from the original)