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BOCRA teeth not sharp enough to control Multichoice

Publishing Date : 11 February, 2019


Satelite television service provider Multichoice which owns the direct broadcast satellite service, DSTV, has the leeway of increasing subscription prices willy-nilly and Botswana Communications Regulations Authority (BOCRA) cannot control that.

This is according to the Court of Appeal (CoA) yesterday’s judgment which was nullifying the lower court decision which allowed BOCRA full control on Multichoice Botswana subscription fees or prices as per clause 13 of the license the regulator gave to Multichoice Botswana. The clause 13 of the BOCRA license granted Multichoice Botswana a “Subscription Management Service Provider Licence.”

Before yesterday’s appeal BOCRA had won a case in which it sought to make Multichoice Botswana as a Subscription Management Service Provider Licence to comply with its regulations, especially controlling of prices. However yesterday the supreme court quashed BOCRA’s case of controlling Multichoice Botswana saying by the regulator now want to regulate the subscription management service provider as a full broadcaster hence the move to control its tariffs.

According to the CoA, Multichoice Botswana which is registered in Botswana merely does administrative work for the broadcaster Multichoice Africa which in turn has exclusive control of both the bouquets of channels and tariffs. Multichoice Botswana does not own any DSTV service (network), DSTV broadcasting signal or decoder or any products it sell in Botswana but merely acts as an ‘agent’ for Multichoice Africa, therefore Multichoice Botswana cannot be deemed a broadcaster, according to the CoA decision which agrees with the subscription management service provider.

The CoA has found that Multichoice Africa conveys the DSTv signal from its point of origin to subscribers’ devices at their homes, by a continuous broadcasting process including the activation of smart cards and that all the activities in this broadcasting process take place outside Botswana. While the CoA believes BOCRA want to impose a broadcasting licence on Multichoice Africa, the broadcaster is not even joined as or a party to the case. According to CoA BOCRA sees Multichoice contravening its laws but “if its conduct is unlawful it cannot be rendered lawful by imposing conditions on Multichoice Botswana.”

This is not the first legal battle between Multichoice and the broadcasting regulator as the love-hate affair dates back to 14 years ago when BOCRA was called the National Broadcasting Board(NBB). That time, same as the recent case, the NBB had sought to control Multichoice Botswana which won the case all the way to the Court of Appeal. 

Therefore what was happening in this legal battle is in a de ja vu manner. Multiple Batswana who subscribes to DSTV pay tv services have a bitter pill to swallow with this  CoA judgement as there have been constant cries of overpricing by the service provider despite low or lack of quality in the content.



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