ACT Government submission (File size: 132Kb) (File size: 131.5 KB)

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ACT Government submission (File size: 132Kb) (File size: 131.5 KB)

  1. 1. ACT GOVERNMENT SUBMISSION DCITA DISCUSSION PAPER ON MEDIA REFORM OPTIONS “MEETING THE DIGITAL CHALLENGE – REFORMING AUSTRALIA’S MEDIA IN THE DIGITAL AGE” Summary of Proposals This submission has been developed to provide a response by the ACT Government to the Commonwealth discussion paper “Meeting the Digital Challenge – Reforming Australia’s media in the digital age”, released on 14 March 2006. This submission incorporates a number of proposals developed by the ACT Government for consideration in the context of the development of Australia’s digital media environment. Key proposals include: • A common and unified switchover to digital television service in the Southern NSW TV licence area; this includes the ACT and Australian Capital Region • All State/Territory governments to be involved in the development of the Digital Action Plan for switchover to digital TV service • Commonwealth government assistance to disadvantaged and low income households to enable their switchover to digital TV services (as proposed in the discussion paper) • Strengthened requirement for all retailers to have set top boxes available for purchase and to inform consumers about digital television policy at point of sale from 1 January 2007 • Capacity to be allocated on digital broadcasting spectrum for government data casting services • Capacity to be allocated on digital broadcasting spectrum for community broadcast services • Regulatory framework for new digital services on other platforms to take into account both the type of content provided and the platforms used to deliver that content • Removal of prohibition on multi channelling for commercial free to air broadcasters at the end of the simulcast period (as proposed in the discussion paper). Removal to be tied to the broadcasters providing capacity for government data casting, community broadcasting services and strengthening local content quotas for regional licencees for broadcast of local news and events • Removal of prohibition on multi channelling for the national broadcasters (ABC, SBS) (as proposed in the discussion paper). Removal to be from 1 January 2007 1
  2. 2. • Removal of the existing HD quota obligation for commercial broadcasters simultaneously with the removal of prohibition on multi channelling (as proposed in the discussion paper). The removal of HD quotas is to be subject to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) being required to review and report to the Commonwealth on the level of HD programs provided following the commencement of multi channelling by commercial free to air broadcasters. The ACMA review is to be undertaken two years after multi channelling first commences for these broadcasters. • Removal of existing requirement for regional licencees to provide multiple HDTV streams (as proposed in the discussion paper). This removal is to be, subject to existing and proposed strengthened local content quotas being achieved through SDTV services, multi channelling and unallocated channels in the Broadcasting Services Band • Commonwealth to strengthen the local content quota requirements for commercial free to air regional licencees, following the removal of existing prohibitions on multi channelling and use of unallocated channels in the Broadcasting Services Band. Part 1 – A Roadmap to Digital Conversion Timetable and plan for switchover The discussion paper seeks comment on how switchover should be implemented including the options of a nationwide switchover, by region or another configuration. Canberra and the rest of the ACT is included in the Southern NSW licence TV area which includes the local councils of the Australian Capital Region, Illawarra, Wagga and Bathurst/Orange/Dubbo areas (see Appendix A – map). The ACT considers that the southern NSW licence TV area should have a common and unified switchover to digital television service. The ACT Government believes that Canberra as the national capital city needs to maintain parity with the other capital cities in terms of the standards and range of television services being provided. There is also a need to ensure that there is a common and unified switchover to digital television service for the ACT and Southern NSW television licence area. The Commonwealth therefore needs to ensure that all parts of the licence area have access to digital service, to enable a common switchover of the other capital cities and the Southern NSW television licence area. The discussion paper seeks comment on whether there is scope to shorten the simulcast of analogue and digital signals for regional broadcasters or allow regional licencees to voluntarily cease analogue broadcasting earlier than any mandated switchover date. Canberra and the Southern NSW licence area is served by the regional commercial FTA licencees: Southern Cross Ten, WIN and Prime; the ABC and SBS. Any shortening of the simulcast period or voluntary ceasing of analogue broadcasting by regional licencee should be dependent on ensuring that all areas currently receiving analogue services have access to digital service; and adequate consultation by the 2
  3. 3. regional licencees with those communities which would be affected by an earlier or voluntary cessation of the analogue service. Any early changeover should also be part of a wider program to ensure low income and disadvantaged members of the community are not financially affected, and to require all retailers in Australia to bundle a set top box with any analogue TV sold well before any change over. The ACT Government supports a subsidy paid by the Commonwealth for low income people to enable them to purchase a set top box if needed. Development of Digital Action Plan All State/Territory governments should be involved in the development of the Digital Action Plan. The ACT Government proposes to consult further with our stakeholders to consider the impacts of the digital switchover and will consider making a further submission to the Commonwealth on this issue. Technical, regulatory and other measures to encourage consumer take up and the vacation of analogue spectrum The discussion paper outlines a number of consumer awareness, financial and other assistance for digital divide target groups, regulatory and industry measures, to increase consumer take up of digital TV. Assistance to disadvantaged and low income households The ACT supports the proposed measures in particular the consideration of financial assistance for disadvantaged people, or the elderly, or possible subsidisation of digital receivers to facilitate conversion for these groups. The ACT submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information Technology and the Arts' inquiry into the implementation of digital television (Digital TV inquiry), in May 2005, proposed that the Commonwealth subsidise the purchase of set-top boxes for low-income households to ensure that they receive some kind of television service after the switch-off of analogue transmission The ACT considers it will be absolutely critical to provide support and assistance to all of those disadvantaged people in the community who have the potential to be excluded from access to a basic television service, following the close down of the analogue service. The possible social consequences of the switch over for this group may be significant if the Commonwealth does not provide the necessary assistance (both financial and support/advice) to enable disadvantaged households to obtain digital television services concurrent with the analogue switch over. It is important that the Commonwealth provide the necessary assistance to ensure that the switchover to digital does not result in the creation of a new under-class of citizens in the area of communications technology 3
  4. 4. Regulatory In respect of regulatory requirements, given the large number of analogue television receivers (especially cheap CRT’s) continuing to be sold there is a pressing need to strengthen existing arrangements for retailers. It is proposed that all retailers selling analogue televisions be required to have set top boxes available for purchase at the point of sale and be required to inform consumers that analogue transmission will not be available from the planned switchover date and advise that a set top box would need to be purchased to receive broadcast services after that date. This requirement should apply from 1 January 2007. This provision will be beneficial in increasing the number of households accessing digital TV from that date and reduce the ultimate requirement for government provision of set top boxes before analogue services close down. Part 2 – Enabling a Digital Environment 2.1 New Services on Spare Spectrum and other Platforms New digital services on broadcasting spectrum The discussion paper seeks comment on options for use of spare broadcasting spectrum (ie the two unallocated digital channels in the Broadcast service band [BSB] available in most licence areas until analogue television ceases). Datacasting of government services The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported the development of specific initiatives to enable governments to provide information and services to customers through data casting platforms. The ACT Government supports the opportunity for governments to provide data casting services through the spare spectrum. The proposed uses of spare spectrum should not be broadened to other services unless provision is included for government data casting services in this spectrum. The NSW Government’s trial of channel 44 data casting services has demonstrated significant potential which governments are keen to further examine. At the Online and Communications Council Regional Communications working group meeting on 23 February 2006, the Commonwealth and all State/Territory governments agreed that the implementation of digital television, including the potential for data casting services, was a key issue for governments to consider in the context of regional communications requirements. A proposed outline for a policy framework is being developed by members for consideration by the working group in October 2006. This development should specifically be taken into account in the Commonwealth’s decisions on the discussion paper. The ACT Government proposes the following policy principles for spectrum usage: - the two unallocated digital channels to be allocated by auction by the Commonwealth to interested parties; 4
  5. 5. - the multi channelling permitted to free to air commercial broadcasters be required to include spectrum/channels for government data casting services and community broadcasting purposes. This proposed approach would have a number of benefits including: - maximising efficient use of available broadcast spectrum - allowing the Commonwealth to maximise revenue from the auction of the two additional unallocated digital channels and - enabling government data casting and community broadcasting services to be broadcast from existing broadcast facilities without incurring costs of new facilities for establishing these new digital services. Further detail on this proposal is outlined under 2.2 Expanded Service Options for Existing FTA broadcasters. New digital services on other platforms The discussion paper suggests that new commercial FTA broadcast services delivered over platforms other than normal BSB channels (such as wireless, satellite and broadband networks), will have the opportunity to emerge from 1 January 2007. The ACT considers that the regulatory framework for new digital services on other platforms should take into account both the type of content provided and the platform used to deliver that content. The framework should also address emerging requirements in both mobile communications and home communications systems environment. In respect of the mobile communications environment, 3G mobile phone platforms services now provide access to internet (broadband) type content and streamed short video. The proposals under consideration would enable subscription TV, niche FTA TV shows (narrow casting) and interactive services to be sent to fixed or mobile devices including through digital video broadcasting – handheld devices (ie 3G/4G mobile phones, Ipods with video capability etc). In respect of the home communications environment, consumers ability to integrate the transmission of video, sound and data between all of their major home communications and entertainment devices ie digital television, digital video recorders/personal video recorders and computers (internet), media centres and games platforms will dramatically contribute to the establishment of the digital home. Content will also be able to be downloaded to portable devices. In this context, it is important to note that internet TV already exists in Australian homes, for example, through ability to download episodes of US TV programs and movies from the web. New technologies being launched this year including ViiV and Reeltime Media’s set top box will also make it easier for video to be broadcast on digital TVs. The future maturation of IPTV poses further challenges. The recent agreement by the world’s largest electronic firms to use Bluetooth wireless technology to seamlessly connect all major home communications and entertainment devices and related devices (such as portable devices and multimedia projectors) in the home must be considered a very significant step forward for the future digital environment. (Canberra Times, March 30, 2006). 5
  6. 6. The Commonwealth’s digital broadcast policy framework needs to take into account any relevant issues arising from the mobile and home communications environments outlined above, to ensure that there is a level playing field for content providers, platform providers and consumers. 2.2 Expanding Service Options for existing FTA broadcasters Multi channelling Commercial broadcasters The discussion paper proposes that commercial FTA broadcasters be allowed to provide full multi channelling from the end of the simulcast period. The ACT’s submission to the digital TV inquiry supported more consumer choice through the development of innovative content (through multi channelling and increased program choice from multi-channels on SD, extra viewer options [digital enhancements] on SD and expanded HD broadcasting). The ACT submission also indicated that the ACT would benefit from the removal of existing genre restrictions on broadcasters to enable improved local content and services. The ACT supports the proposed removal of the existing prohibition on multi channelling by commercial FTA broadcasters as a major activity to support the implementation of digital TV. The existing prohibition should be maintained for these broadcasters until the end of the simulcast period. The ACT proposes that the removal of this prohibition should be specifically tied to commercial broadcasters being required to provide capacity in their multi channelling spectrum streams for government data casting services (for example hosting of Channel 44, NSW), community broadcasting and strengthening requirement quotas for the showing of local content (news and community information) on regional TV services. Community broadcasting should be included in, and be counted as part of, the increased quotas for local content. A wholesale type arrangement is envisaged under this proposal. Community broadcasters would be responsible for all program content and transmission costs and the community broadcaster would have use of the commercial free to air broadcaster’s broadcast facilities. Initially, the community broadcast channels could be used for government data casting services. As multi channelling arrangements mature, a separate government data cast channel could be developed, leaving spectrum available solely for community broadcasting purposes. Local content quotas for each regional licences should be strengthened to one half hour local news broadcast as one complete program per licencee from Monday – Friday; the content would comprise local news, sport and weather. Community broadcasting quotas would be counted as additional to this requirement. 6
  7. 7. National broadcasters The discussion paper indicates that the Commonwealth’s preferred option is to remove the current genre restrictions on the national broadcasters (ABC and SBS) and allow full multi channelling by the national broadcasters as soon as practicable upon passage of the necessary legislation. The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported removing existing restrictions on multi channelling for all free to air channels, in particular the ABC. The ACT considers that the national broadcasters (in particular the ABC) have both a important role to play in the community as a whole and a major role in the development of digital TV services in Australia. The ACT supports the proposed removal of the current genre restrictions on national broadcasters to allow full multi channelling as soon as practicable to enable national news broadcasts, drama, movies and relevant sports broadcasts, interactive broadcasting services and enhanced access to archival material to be provided on the national broadcasters digital channels. In terms of timing, the ACT supports the Digital TV inquiry report recommendation for the current genre restrictions on the national broadcasters to be removed from 1 January 2007. The ACT observes that it will be necessary for the Commonwealth government to provide the national broadcasters, in particular the ABC, with appropriate funding to ensure that the broadcasters can improve their digital services to the community in each of the areas identified above. The ACT Legislative Assembly passed a resolution on 8 March 2006 indicating its support of the ABC triennial funding submission. HD TV HD TV quota The discussion paper proposes that the existing high definition (HD) quota obligation (1040 hours per annum or around 20 hours/week per channel) be removed at the same time as full multi channelling by commercial broadcasters is permitted. This would apply at the end of the simulcast period. The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported an increase in the existing HD program quota, to further differentiate HD services from SD services and provide increased consumer choice. The ACT notes the evolving environment in respect of HD including the increasing production of HD programs by US/UK and Australian studios, the increased number and types of HD receivers (including integrated HD tuners) and other components being sold in Australia, the decreasing retail price of these products and the consequential increase in numbers of HD equipment being sold. The ACT supports the removal of the HD quota at the same time as multi channelling by the commercial broadcasters is permitted but subject to the Australian 7
  8. 8. Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) being required to review and report (on the amount of HD provided by these broadcasters after multi channelling commences) and make recommendations to the Commonwealth as to how HD broadcasts should be maintained in the digital TV era. The ACMA report should be undertaken two years after the date on which multi channelling is initially permitted to the commercial broadcasters. The ACMA review would provide a safeguard for those consumers who have purchased HD equipment and may be unable to access a reasonable level of HD programs following the removal of the HD quotas. Simulcast of SDTV and HDTV The discussion paper also proposes that the Commonwealth could remove the existing requirement for broadcasters to provide a simulcast of their SDTV service in HDTV format from January 2007. The ACT supports this generic proposal to provide additional flexibility for broadcasters in HD programming. The discussion paper indicates that this approach is seen as particularly benefiting licencees in key regional markets who are currently required to simulcast these different sub regional services to meet local content programming requirements. This currently involves providing multiple HDTV streams to meet local content requirements for the particular licence area. Under the Commonwealth’s proposal, regional licencees could show one rather than multiple HDTV program streams across their entire licence area. The ACT supports this proposed approach in principle for regional licencees subject to existing and future local content provisions (including increased quotas) being achieved by regional licencees through SDTV services, through multi channelling arrangements or via the unallocated digital channels in the Broadcast Service Band. 2.3 Media Ownership and Control Media Ownership Regional services protections The discussion paper indicates that the Commonwealth Government acknowledges the importance to regional Australians of “live and local” media. The paper states that licence conditions are currently imposed on television broadcasters in aggregated regional commercial television markets including Southern NSW TV licence area (which includes Canberra, the ACT and Australian Capital Region) which require minimum levels of content to be broadcast on matters of local significance. The licence conditions are imposed on commercial free to air channels. The national broadcasters - ABC and SBS - are not subject to these conditions. The ACT supports the Commonwealth proposal to legislate to require the retention of these licence conditions in the digital TV era. The ACT also considers that the Commonwealth, as a core requirement, should take the opportunity provided through expanding the service options for existing FTA 8
  9. 9. commercial broadcasters (through removing the existing prohibitions on multi channelling and use of the unallocated channels in the Broadcasting Services Band), to increase the existing local content quota requirements for coverage of local issues. The ACT considers that once regional broadcast licencees are permitted to broadcast on additional digital channels, this will provide more scope and flexibility for enhanced local and regional content. Quotas should be increased for the commercial free to air broadcasters from the date when the multi channelling prohibition ceases. Further details on the proposal for strengthened local content are provided at 2.2 above (Expanding Service Options for Existing FTA broadcasters, Multi channelling, Commercial broadcasters). Canberra May 2006 9

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