The Belarusian Ministry of Architecture and Construction has ruled that every new satellite dish to be installed on a building façade will require special permission from the authorities and the filing of extensive and relatively expensive 'project documentation'. The ministry claims the new ruling is to prevent dishes from ruining building aesthetics, but comes as the country begins its analogue switch-off.
Despite not applying retrospectively, local sources fear that the new regulations may also affect existing dishes. Recently the inhabitants of Minsk received notices regarding removal of dishes from the front of their houses. Also, according to local sources, the new regulations may have a negative impact on the independent Belarusian television channels, including Belsat TV (funded by Polish public broadcaster TVP) which in Belarus can be received only via satellite TV.
This month (August 2013) Belarus starts the process of analogue switch-off. Analogue terrestrial signals will be switched-off in the city and region of Osipovichi. The deadline for national analogue switch-off is 2015. Currently there are eight free-to-air DTT channels available nationwide, as well as a pay DTT service offered by state-owned incumbent telco Beltelecom (also providing an IPTV service). At the moment Beltelcom broadcasts 12 DTT channels on a regional basis, but is planning to air a total of 24 channels with a national coverage. There is also a pay DTT service from CosmosTV offered in the region of Minsk.
Except for illegally-received Russian satellite TV, there is no local pay satellite TV service in Belarus so there was room for growth in free satellite. According to our figures, free satellite penetration in Belarus stands at about 12 per cent of households. Cable TV remains the country's largest platform with penetration over 50 per cent. IPTV has been growing strongly during last few years, primarily thanks to Beltelecom's Zala, launched in the second half of 2008 - it is currently watched by around 20 per cent of homes. At end of June 2013, free DTT penetration stood at about five per cent of homes, with the coverage short of 100 per cent of homes.
The new ruling on satellite dishes will likely have a negative impact on the satellite TV and electronics sector in the country and force migration to other TV platforms - nearly all of which are state-owned. It is, however, very hard to estimate how big the migration will be. On the one hand the regulations put pressure on all the owners of satellite dishes in Belarus. Proving that a given dish had been installed prior to the new regulations may turn out to be difficult. Satellite dishes are the main way to receive independent TV channels in Belarus.
Further, such regulations create a lot of additional bureaucracy, fueling corruption which is widespread in the country. The new law is likely to impact urban areas disproportionately. Belarusian independent TV stations, such as Belsat TV, may take some respite from maintaining a rural audience, which, according to the channels, has been always the major group of their viewers.
Although in some countries there are certain restrictions with regards to installation of antennas (for example, the Netherlands as to rooftop aerials) with the new regulations around satellite dishes Belarus joins countries such as China and Pakistan, where installing satellite dishes has been banned for strictly political reasons.